Baltimore County came under withering criticism Wednesday from the State Comptroller over the conditions of two of its high schools. Comptroller Peter Franchot called the conditions at Dulaney and Lansdowne High Schools deplorable and unacceptable.
If you’ve been following along the last couple of years, you know Comptroller Franchot has been bringing the high heat over the lack of air conditioning in the county schools. Now that all but 13 schools have AC, Franchot is shifting his focus to the conditions at Dulaney and Lansdowne High Schools specifically. At Wedneday’s Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis, Franchot listed the problems at Dulaney.
“We’re talking about discolored water that’s unsafe to drink, flooded classrooms due to burst pipes, crumbling foundation, busted floors and of course lack of air conditioning,” Franchot said.
And Franchot added that Lansdowne is worse. He quoted a 2014 assessment of Lansdowne by the county schools.
“Interior finishes are in very poor condition,” Franchot read. “Water damage is evident in the ceilings and exterior windows. Multiple level changes create accessibility issues. The exterior skin of the building is failing.”
Interim County School Superintendent Verletta White told Franchot and the Board of Public Works that renovating and replacing old high schools is on the county’s to-do list.
“Secondary schools will remain a capital priority, not in just one area of the county," White said. "But throughout our county and in all of our communities.”
But here is the rub: Lansdowne is slated for a $60 million renovation. But Franchot said the school is in too bad a shape for that. Only a full replacement will do.
Jim Milea, a teacher at Lansdowne, told the board he believes the school is slated for renovation rather than replacement because it is in a poorer community. Milea said the people there have been told to take the renovation that’s on the table.
“And if you are ever going to get a new school it may be in 20 years," Milea said. "So the parents have learned this message to not speak up for a new school.”
But White said the reason for a major renovation rather than a more expensive new school is that Lansdowne is structurally sound.
Meantime, the future of Dulaney High School is in limbo. Replacing Dulaney was on the priority list school officials presented to the Board of Public Works. And last month, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans to build a new high school in the central north-east area of the county. That’s where Dulaney is, but there are no guarantees that new high school would be a replacement. Kamenetz said the location of that new school will depend on an ongoing study of school overcrowding in the county.
Earlier this year, the Dulaney community rejected plans for a renovation, holding out instead for a new school. Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach invited the Board of Public Works members, which include Franchot, the Governor and the State Treasurer to see Dulaney for themselves.
“It is imperative that it be replaced with a new school sooner than later,” Kach said.
Baltimore County has a ten year, 1.3 billion dollar plan in place to renovate and replace schools. When completed, there will be16 new schools and 15 renovations and additions. Officials say it is the largest investment in school construction in the county’s history.