Olszewski says there’s money in budget to plan new Towson, Dulaney high schools

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Dulaney High School. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikimedia Commons.

While actual construction remains unfunded, Baltimore County’s top elected official today announced there’s money in the fiscal 2020 budget to plan and design replacement buildings for Towson High and Dulaney High.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s office said the dollars he’s identified in the fiscal 2020 budget, which was approved in May, will kick off the planning process.

The county is allotting $500,000 for the first phase of planning work for each school, which Olszewski said “is predicated” on the state providing additional money in the upcoming legislative session to fund more planning and, eventually, construction.

“These are schools that have long been documented in need of additional assistance and progress and new schools, whether it’s the severe overcrowding we see at Towson or the conditions that are declining at Dulaney, between lack of air conditioning and brown drinking water,” he said at a press conference.

County officials have previously said building new high schools would cost more than $100 million apiece.

The $2.15 billion budget passed by the Baltimore County Council earmarked $260 million for capital schools projects, including $15 million already set aside to plan and design a new Lansdowne High School, another aged institution that parents and officials have pushed to replace in recent years.

Olszewski said the county expects to have 1,700 more students than seats in its high schools in the next decade.

“I’m committed to ensuring that every student, every parent and every teacher in Baltimore County has access to a clean, safe, modern learning environment, and today’s announcement is an important step in that direction.”

Projections have suggested a need for 1,000 more seats in Baltimore County’s central corridor alone. Meanwhile, previous reports have detailed burst pipes, rusted sinks and a lack of air conditioning in classrooms at Dulaney, as well as corroded electrical systems, worn-out floors and deteriorating ceilings at Towson High.

Councilman Wade Kach, whose district includes Dulaney, nodded to the late Kevin Kamenetz’s previous commitment to replacing those secondary schools, which drew opposition from all council members except for Kach. The projects ended up being delayed anyway this spring, after a $2 billion school construction bill stalled in the Maryland Senate.

Kach, a Republican, applauded Olszewski for following through on advocating for new buildings. He noted Baltimore County’s schools are the second oldest in the state, behind Baltimore City’s.

“When he took over, we had to get our fiscal house in order, and he’s done that,” he said of Olszewski and his 2020 budget, which is supported by a new tax on cell phone service and the county’s first income tax increase in 30 years. “He’s planning for the future, and this is why today is happening.”

David Marks, who represents District 5, encompassing Towson High, also thanked Olszewski in a statement, saying the planning-and-design commitment “advances new high school construction in central Baltimore County, a goal shared by hundreds of students and families.”

Olszewski’s administration is working on a 10-year capital plan, which today’s announcement said will serve as “a roadmap for equitable and effective allocation of school construction dollars.” The 2020 budget includes $750,000 to pay for a 10-year study of school maintenance needs.

The county already plans to proceed with renovating Patapsco and Woodlawn high schools, and replacing Dundalk, Colgate, Berkshire and Chadwick elementary schools. But other projects, including replacing Bedford, Summit Park, Deer Park and Red House Run elementary schools, and building a new elementary school at Ridge Road and a new middle school in Nottingham, among others, remain delayed without state-committed construction dollars.

Olszewski, a former public school teacher, said he plans to push state lawmakers to prioritize setting aside money for those and other building projects in the 2020 legislative session. His office noted he recently brought members of the House Appropriations Committee out for a tour of county schools to help them better understand his jurisdiction’s facilities needs.

He said if he gets his wish, the county can break ground on both new schools by summer of 2023. If the state “fails to do that, we are talking many, many years down the road, because we’re waiting for them to play catch-up.”

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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