When will John Archer School get built and what's taking so long?

Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 10:59:41-04

Harford County has several schools that need to be rebuilt, and parents at all of them want their school done first.  One of them is John Archer School for children with special needs.

The plan for the new school was first talked about after an inspection of several schools in the county in 2009. The school was built in 1971 and for nearly 50 years has been serving special needs families.    
It's an old school and its students have unique needs.

Cornell Brown, the Harford County Schools Assistant for Operations talked about what’s needed and what’s planned. “The biggest need we have obviously is the age of the facility, it is now 2018 so there are program requirements that we would need to address,” Brown said.

John Archer currently serves around 100 students from the age of 3 to 21. Mckenzie Wardrope is a new member of the John Archer community. Her four-year-old daughter Addy has a rare genetic mutation that causes severe epilepsy which inhibits her development. “She really doesn’t have independence,” Wardrope said. “She’s nonverbal, she doesn’t really have great fine motor skills. She cannot stand unassisted she doesn’t walk unassisted.” She said the teachers, paras, and staff at John Archer are top notch. “There’s several helpers in the room and they’ve all been really interactive with her. She’s actually been showing signs of improvement already just in the first few weeks.”

The problem that she said feels like a shot to the gut is that the school has needed to be rebuilt for years and still hasn’t. “Their bathrooms are pretty bad, they don’t have the appropriate sized changing tables. They really have a hard time with dignity for the kids. There’s not enough space for them to move around. Their equipment is way out of date.”

Susan Austin is the Director of Special Education for Harford County Public Schools.

She said many students are living now who previously wouldn't have and they have special and unique needs. “It was not built for a population of students who were medically fragile and significantly disabled. The juxtaposition of the rooms the accessibility to nursing staff to bathrooms that would enable changing tables, therapy rooms which would be more conducive to the implementation of the physical therapy or the occupational therapy.”

Brown said before the recession hit in 2009 Harford County was taking on two projects at once.

Youth's Benefit Elementary School was put on hold because of the recession and other factors that lead to a logjam.  Now the county is funding projects consecutively, one project at a time. Each one takes around three years to plan with around a year to 2 1/2 years to build before opening. All prices are an estimate and include design, construction, construction management, furniture and equipment, and contingency. 

Youth's Benefit Elementary opened in Fallson last year at a cost of $48.8 million.

Havre DE Grace Middle and High Schools will welcome students in the 2020-2021 school year with a cost of $99,480,117.

Renovating Joppatowne High School to get kids in for the 2022-2023 school year will cost around $35,417,000.

John Archer is scheduled for 2026-2027 around $72 million. “The current plan that was put together in 2009 shows that the new John Archer facility will be housed on the Bel Air Campus next to Bel Air Middle School,” said Brown. “In order to do that we need to renovate Homestead-Wakefield 3 building facility to move one of the buildings out of the way. Then John Archer will follow there because we will put the new John Archer in the location where one of the Homestead-Wakefield buildings currently exists.”

The current state and county share percentage for construction breaks down into 63% from the state and 37% from the county.  Brown said the state has proposed to change the rate to 60% from the state and 40% from the county.

Wardrope said she reached out to Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s office and they said it’s the school boards decision as far as what projects get prioritized.  “To constantly be pushed off to the side over and over and over again it’s really disappointing and it’s hard for people to understand unless you walk in the shoes of a special needs parent,” Wardrope said.

Everyone involved wanting what’s best for every student with only so much funds to go around.

“I’ve said it a thousand times, but when is our kids turn,” Wardrope said.