Comptroller Franchot visits NDHS

MD-Franchot tours NDHS_ceiling

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
Engineer Chris Hauge, Principal Lynn Sorrells, Peter Franchot and Dr. Henry Wagner inspect falling ceiling times due to a leaking roof.

HURLOCK — State Comptroller Peter Franchot did a tour of a number of locations in Hurlock on June 12. The focal point of his North Dorchester tour was undoubtedly the aging property of North Dorchester High School.

In a walking tour of only a small part of the building, Mr. Franchot witnessed falling ceiling tiles from leaks in the roof, cracking brickwork, and students eating lunch in the hallways because the cafeteria is not large enough to hold them all.

As with all public projects, money is the big issue. The debate in Dorchester County is how the county is going to pay for the badly needed school—through tax increases, or will there be grant money available from private foundations or the state?

“We are very interested in the school because of the age of it,” Mr. Franchot said. “We appreciate the county taking great care of it and extending its life. Obviously, the functionality and the safety aspects of the school really need to be addressed.”

Mr. Franchot pointed out the money issue, and handed Dorchester County a compliment in a conversation with The Banner staff a few weeks back. “School maintenance is a big issue, because areas like Worcester and Dorchester don’t get to build many new schools,” Mr. Franchot said. “They need to extend the useful life of what they have — and they do that well. Other parts of the state don’t have that culture.

“So a school (like North Dorchester High) can be 50 or 60 years old over on the shore, and need to be replaced because it’s old, but not being replaced because it’s falling apart. I have schools in Montgomery County that are only 20 years old that are being considered for replacement,” continued the Comptroller.

“Both Governor Hogan and I are in agreement on the issue of school maintenance. We’re saying to the bigger jurisdictions, like Baltimore County and Montgomery County school districts, that they have got to take better care of what they have. We simply don’t have the numbers to replace and build these new schools. We’ll do some of them, but the ones that we already have, they have to do superior maintenance—and that’s a big change for them. The whole point is, we just don’t have the money to do what we’ve done in the past.”

MD-Franchot tours NDHS_lunchroom

Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper
State Comptroller Peter Franchot talks to students eating lunch in the corridor outside the cafeteria during a recent tour.

In the short tour of the building, with a large group that included local officials, school board members, administrators from NDHS, Hurlock Mayor Joyce Spratt and Senator Addie Eckardt, Franchot visited with students having lunch in an overcrowded cafeteria, with tables spilling out into the hallway. He talked to the kids and asked if they needed a new school, and was greeted with an enthusiastic “yes!”

Lynn Sorrells, NDHS principal, commented, “Our students at North Dorchester High School need a new school to be able to prepare themselves for their opportunities for the future. We are preparing kids for positions and opportunities in the area of engineering, in the humanities; we need to have a learning facility that is going to facilitate that new technology, and an infrastructure that is going to support that as well because of the workforce they are going to be competing against. Across the state, across the nation, globally — other kids have these opportunities. So we have an obligation to provide the same opportunities in North Dorchester High School and in Dorchester County.”

Dorchester County school system superintendent Dr. Henry Wagner led the visitors down the corridor to point out the “open classroom” design of the school, basically one long hallway with classrooms on either side. He pointed out that because of the design the school uses multiple heating and cooling systems resulting in inefficient energy usage. Plus, Dorchester County School Facility Engineer Chris Hauge pointed out, “It could be an Olympic event if a student has class on one side of the school and needs to go outside to the other part of school to get to his locker.”

Dr. Wagner also pointed out the obvious security problems with the current NDHS layout.

“That school was not good even when I went there,” said Hurlock Mayor Joyce Spratt. “The kids that go to school out there live here, so I think it is my job to push for it. It is not a want, it is a need, and that is how I look at it.”

The debate over whether or not to replace the school is over, though, as the County Council has agreed that the need is there. “The council has come to an agreement that it is time to move forward with this project,” said County Council President Ricky Travers. “We are remiss if we do not start right now because it will not happen overnight. The problem is it will be 2019 before we can put students in it.”

In a discussion in one cramped classroom at NDHS, Comptroller Franchot brought up the subject of lost highway user funds during the previous administration. The loss of $4 million in user funds forced the county to use tax dollars that could be used on other projects — like school building and upkeep — on local road repairs and replacement.

“I applaud Governor Hogan for trying to correct that mistake,” the Comptroller said. “It puts pressure on the county budgets. The highway user funds were money well spent on the Eastern Shore, and needed to stay here.”

Comptroller Franchot couldn’t help but voice his appreciation of Dorchester County and the Eastern Shore history once again. “This is such a great county,” he said. “It’s got agriculture, seafood, history — Harriet Tubman and Anna Carroll, the great daughter of the Maryland governor Thomas King Carroll in 1830, who was a top advisor to Abraham Lincoln—just Google Anna Carroll, you’ll be amazed! Dorchester is a place I’d love to live; I love visiting here.

“I can say this school is on the radar screen big time,” the Comptroller stated. “I will be a huge champion for North Dorchester High School as everything moves forward.”

MD-Franchot tours NDHS_group outside

Engineer Chris Hauge points out structural flaws and design problems to the group of visiting officials.

Paul Clipper is the editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at pclipper@newszap.com.

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