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Olszewski backs plan to renovate rather than replace Towson High

Towson High Pix.JPG
Towson High School. Credit: John Lee

A new Towson High School is out; a new Dulaney High School is a “maybe” under a plan backed by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

The debate over Towson and Dulaney is a key front in a pitched battle over how to equitably spend billions on school buildings throughout the county.

The state and the county share the cost of school construction. Olszewski controls the county’s portion.

In a letter sent Monday to the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC), which decides how state money is spent on school buildings, Olszewski said Baltimore County is committed to a “comprehensive renovation” of Towson. Olszewski pointed out that Towson High School is considered an historic building, so it needs to be renovated rather than replaced.

As for Dulaney High School, Olszewski endorses a consultant’s $2.5 billion, 15-year plan to improve school buildings county wide which calls for renovating Dulaney as well as Towson.

However, in an interview with WYPR, Olszewski is not ruling out a replacement school for Dulaney High if the Maryland General Assembly gives the county additional money for school construction during the 2022 legislative session.

“We’re seeking additional funding to address opportunities to enhance our renovation plans, do additions and consider new buildings that many have long sought, including at Dulaney,” Olszewski said.

Both schools are decades old. Towson is the most overcrowded high school in the county. Dulaney is infamous for its bursting steam pipes and rusty drinking water.

When Olszewski ran for county executive in 2018, he promised to replace both schools.

In a statement, Republican State Senator Chris West, whose district includes both schools wrote, "Never in my lifetime of closely observing Maryland politics, have I witnessed such a truly shocking breach of promise by an elected official. It is literally staggering that the county executive has reneged on his repeated promises on Towson and Dulaney High Schools."

Supporters of the consultant’s report, called The Multi-Year Improvement Plan for All Schools (MYIPAS), say it equitably spreads school construction money around the county, so every school benefits.

Olszewski, a former teacher, called it transformational. He said there no longer will be a need for trailers for overcrowded schools. Buildings will be modernized. All schools will be air conditioned.

“I remember the box fans that were whizzing because we didn’t have air conditioning and how hot it was,” Olszewski said.

But those who want new Towson and Dulaney High Schools take issue with that approach.

In an August interview, Democratic Delegate Cathi Forbes, who represents Towson, said the consultant’s report proposes spending additional money on recently built schools while the county has other buildings that are falling down.

“If you look at what’s getting some of that money, there are schools that are brand new,” Forbes said. “There are schools listed that opened last fall.”

Olszewski said they must plan on spending money on the new schools for upkeep.

“Think about your house,” Olszewski said.

The Baltimore County School Board sent its own plan to the IAC. It calls for two new high schools for Towson and Dulaney.

Supporters of the new buildings on the school board said they are desperately needed and have long been promised. Opponents countered spending the money on two new high schools would rob other buildings of much needed improvements.

A new high school can cost around $150 million.

The state is currently considering what projects it is willing to support. Olszewski will come up with the county’s school construction budget in the spring.

“Ultimately my budget submission to the (county) council will not be finalized until we know what the state’s plans are,” Olszewski said.

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