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The Red Pump Road elementary school project moved closer to construction this week, with the school system resolving how it will initially provide sewer service to the north Bel Air site.

The decision also means a bigger initial bill for the county’s taxpayers, while a long-stalled housing development next door could soon be given a green light to move forward.

School officials have decided to build a $1.3 million temporary septic system to serve the $30 million school because they do not think a permanent pumping station, which is the responsibility of the county government and a private developer, will be ready in time for the school’s scheduled opening in August 2011.

Construction of the $5 million pumping station is necessary to connect the school site to the county public sewer system.

The decision to open the Red Pump school with a temporary septic system may jeopardize state funding for the school’s construction, at least in the short run, but school and county officials still hope they can resolve that issue.

Regardless of future state funding, one elected official intimately involved with the school project said he agrees with the plan to go ahead.

“I think that is appropriate at this point,” said Harford County Councilman Dick Slutzky, who has advocated building the Red Pump school as soon as possible to reduce overcrowding in several other Bel Air area schools.

Fall start planned

Bids for the new elementary school and temporary sewage disposal system were opened Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, a contractor should be selected and sent to the school board for final approval either by the end of September or early October, Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, said.

Once the contract is approved by the board, construction can begin, which Kranefeld expects to be in the fall or early winter.

“We should have a much better bidding process than we did the last time,” Slutzky said. “I am hopeful it all comes together.”

The Red Pump project was originally bid in November 2008, but a contract was not awarded after school officials decided to place the project on indefinite hold and concentrate on building a school at another site, near Campus Hills.

The primary reason cited at the time for that decision was the uncertainty about public sewer service for the Red Pump site.

Led by Slutzky, the county council had other ideas and eventually threatened to withhold all funding unless the Red Pump school was built. The school board later relented, even though the sewer situation remained unresolved.

The pumping station

The $5 million permanent pumping station that eventually will serve the Red Pump school will be built by the developer of a proposed neighboring housing development called Blake’s Legacy, which is where the pumping station will be.

For the regional pumping station, known as the Bear Cabin Branch Sewage Pump Station, to be built, the developer will be required to contribute $2.1 million for the pumping station, with the county paying the remaining $2.9 million.

Earlier this week, Michael Leaf, a lawyer for the Blake family, which owns the property, said he would have someone associated with the development speak to a reporter; however, no one ever called back.

The timing for the build-out of the Blake’s Legacy property will need to be determined before the school or anyone else can use the pumping station, according to Joel Caudill, deputy director of the county’s department of public works. And, just as construction of the school and development of Blake’s Legacy are ultimately contingent on the pumping station being built, so is the future development of other properties in the area along Red Pump Road northeast of Vale Road.

For the past several years, however, Blake’s Legacy has sat dead in the water, in part because of a forced building moratorium tied to school overcrowding that the new Red Pump school is supposed to alleviate.

As a result, the sequence of the development occurring before construction of the school isn’t going to happen.

Instead, the plan to spend $1.3 million for a temporary sewer disposal system for the school means that, under the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordnance which ties new development to available school capacity, the adjoining development can move forward once work begins on the school this fall.

Cost agreements

According to a county directive written on Sept. 27, 2006, the estimated total cost of the pumping station and connection lines was to be $5 million.

That figure is more than $6 million less than an $11.3 million estimate school board member John Smilko said in early August that he and other school officials received in a meeting with county public works representatives on July 9.

Smilko said he was told the additional cost represented necessary rights-of-way to get public sewer to the school site and the integration or replacement of two older pumping facilities.

Caudill said he doesn’t know where the $11.3 million estimate came from.

“The rights-of-way would not cost anywhere close to $11.3 million,” Caudill said. “The school will need to acquire a right-of-way to get its sewer down to Blake’s, but that would be in the order of thousands of dollars, not millions.”

Caudill confirmed, however, three existing pumping stations will need to be abandoned when the Bear Cabin station is built.

Of the three, he said, only the Harford Estates pumping station is the responsibility of the county. Caudill said the Parliament Ridge and Cedarwood pumping stations will need to be abandoned by developers, as more houses are built in the area that bring additional sewage flow to those two stations, which are already at capacity.

Caudill also said he thinks the $5 million estimates for the Bear Cabin station are still accurate, even though they were configured in 2006.

“I think they are still pretty good,” he said. “We had projected that the project would occur in 2010. We asked ourselves what a reasonable expectation for the future would be.”

Looking to the future

State school construction program officials previously said, more than once, they would not fund the Red Pump school if it is built on a temporary sewage disposal system, because use of such facilities violates the state’s Smart Growth Initiative.

Harford County Council President Billy Boniface says the county needs clarification about the state’s position.

Boniface said he, along with Slutzky, the county executive and the school system are due to meet in October with David Lever, executive director of the state school construction program, to discuss the process used to determine what schools are eligible for state reimbursement toward local forward funding.

Boniface said he wants to know why the state said it would reimburse the county for the school that was planned in Campus Hills, which was likewise to be built on a septic system but in an area where the county does not plan to have public sewer service.

“That is a position they have taken in the past,” Boniface said. “That goes against any of the Smart Growth principles, which are supposed to guide forward funding. We need to better understand forward funding.”

By the time the meeting with Lever takes place, however, work will have begun on the new school — and its temporary sewage disposal system.


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