State and county officials debate how to fix Lansdowne High School
No high school in Baltimore County is in worse shape than Lansdowne High. The county plans to renovate the school, but State Comptroller Peter Franchot said Lansdowne should get a new school and that isn’t happening because the community isn’t affluent, and doesn’t have much influence.
But Franchot’s motives are being questioned.
Franchot recently took a walking tour of Lansdowne. Teacher Jim Milea pointed out damage to wall tiles and floors.
“There is a lot of this horizontal and vertical cracking,” Milea said. “And as we go down this hallway on your left, the wall is actually bowing in towards the middle of the hallway.”
Milea said the walls are settling and moving. Franchot said if this was his house, he would be troubled.
“It’s difficult to fix if it’s a foundation problem,” said Franchot.
Principal Ken Miller took Franchot outside to see an exterior brick wall.
“Take a look at the wall,” Miller said. “And look up top and look at the bottom, and you can see the lines in it just kind of bows out into the middle.”
Lansdowne opened in 1963. It has no air conditioning. There is water damage. The building has seven floor levels and is inaccessible.
Rather than replace the school, Baltimore County plans to renovate Lansdowne and not make it any larger. Franchot chalks that up to the fact that the Lansdowne community is less affluent than other parts of the county, and it’s being told to take it or leave it.
Franchot said, “The community here deserves what everybody else is getting.”
But the last high school built in Baltimore County was in 2013 in Dundalk _ not one of the county’s more affluent areas. Since then, high schools in the county have been renovated. Pete Dixit, the executive director for facilities management, said the county usually renovates high schools because they are so expensive to replace. The Lansdowne renovation is slated to cost around $60 million. A new high school would cost at least twice that. And Lansdowne is getting a new elementary school, expected to open in August.
At the last county school board meeting, Nick Stewart, who represents the Lansdowne community on the board, questioned the comptroller’s motives. Franchot has been feuding for years with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over air conditioning in the schools. Stewart said he decided to skip Franchot’s walking tour.
“And I for one have chosen not to be a part of using our kids as footballs to score points in a high-level game of campaign politics,” Stewart said.
Renovations at other high schools have included additions. But Lansdowne is not crowded. The county does plan to build two new high schools, one in Towson, the other in the central-northeast area to ease crowding in those areas.
Dixit said the Lansdowne renovation can deliver a 21st-century school in two years. If the renovation is killed by the school board, the money set aside for that project goes away. Stewart said if the state wants a new school, it needs to put its money where its mouth is, and cough up more than half of the cost _ up to $70 million.
“Unless or until that time, we cannot consign our kids to many years, if not decades, of deeply upsetting conditions at Lansdowne High School,” Stewart said.
Franchot said Baltimore County could afford to build a new Lansdowne High School if that was a priority. Principal Miller said, sure, he would prefer a new school, but the clock is ticking.
“We, as a community _ the school, the students, the teachers _ we can’t wait,” Miller said.
The school board is expected to get a look at the proposed renovation plans at its meeting next week.