Cecil County Tech School: Basell Brawl Erupts as Amigos Commish Say NO Again, but School Board Vows to Fight On
The months-long fight over a proposed new vocational-technical high school on the Basell building site in Elkton turned into the âBasell Brawlâ Tuesday, as the Three Amigos county commissioner group held firm against even considering it while county school board members vowed to fight on.
Tuesday morning, the Three Amigos majority of the Cecil County Commissioners refused even to schedule a discussion to re-consider an appeal by county school officials, supported by business groups and even local fire companies, to allow a feasibility study to proceed to determine if the vacant Basell property should be converted to a new vo-tech high school.
School officials met with the commissioners last Tuesday afternoon to request a reconsideration of the proposal and upped the ante on the project by offering to pay the estimated $60,000 cost of an independent engineering and feasibility study out of current school operating funds. [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/10/cecil-county-schools-up-ante-on-votech-school-but-2-amigos-balk/ ]
When that meeting ended, two commissioners asked to place the issue on the 10/16/12 morning worksession agenda for further discussion and a vote. But when the agenda for the worksession came out, the schools matter was nowhere to be seen.
âWe agreed to put it on the agenda for a discussion and decision today,â Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) said. But since the issue had been pulled from the agenda for the worksession, Moore made a motion to put the issue on the Tuesday evening business meeting agenda for âa discussion and decision.â
Ostensibly, the item had been pulled from the worksession to give more time to Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3), who did not bother to attend the meeting with school officials last Tuesday afternoon. Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) questioned Dunn, asking âwhether he has an open mindâ on the issue and âis he prepared to make a final decision today.â
In response, Dunn said, âI think we already made a final decision back in May.â He asked Hodge, âIs this one of those re-do votes you dislike?â
Hodge then inquired of Dunn, âSo your mind is made up alreadyâ and if, as far as Dunn was concerned, ânothing has changed?â
Dunn nodded his head in the affirmative.
The vote on Mooreâs motion was the usual 3-2 Three Amigos majority–Commissioners James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Dunnâvoting against consideration of the school proposal while Moore and Hodge wanted to proceed.
Broomell once again pitched putting portable classrooms, or ârelocatablesââotherwise known as trailers– on the site of the existing, inadequate votech school in North East and said that would be sufficient to address the current 155-student waiting list of teens seeking votech classes but unable to enroll due to limited capacity at the school.
âI just donât think this is the time for us to be growing our school infrastructure,â Broomell said, adding that the countyâs school population âhas went [sic] downâ in recent years.
While the overall county schools enrollment has diminished, the waiting list for votech classes has increased. There are now almost as many students on the waiting list as the 180 students countywide who are enrolled in votech classes.
Members of the county school board and CCPS senior staffers sat in the audience during the morning worksession but under the ground rules they had to sit in silence.
But the gloves and gags were off Tuesday evening, during the âCitizens Cornerâ public comment period held before the regular bi-weekly evening business meeting of the county commissioners.
Dawn Branch, a school board member, zeroed in on Broomell, and at times she was joined by board president Lauren Camphausen in a tag-team challenge to Broomell. (Dunn and Mullin did not show up for the citizensâ corner discussion.) For her part, Broomell held firm that she would not consider the Basell property as an âoption.â
Branch pointed out that during her 2008 campaign for commissioner, Broomell stated that portable classrooms or trailers were ânot adequateâ solutions to school crowding and that a school of technology âshould be a top priority for us to put in.â
âWhat changed along the way, that you were against it but now youâre for them,â Branch inquired about trailers for the school.
Broomell said that the âhigh qualityâ of the instruction at the current votech school would continue even if classes were held in trailers and complained that in the past CCPS âdid not speak upâ about overcrowding issues during the county planning process.
There was no shortage of speaking up by the school board members Tuesday night, as Branch noted, âYou canât have a welding program in a portableâtheyâre flammable.â
Broomell responded that cosmetology classes could be held in a trailer. (CCPS officials have pointed out in the past that cosmetology programs are among the most costly because extensive sinks, water and plumbing connections and supplies have to be established even in a bricks and mortar building.)
Branch said the trailer concept could end up costing more than the sprawling multi-purpose Basell property, with no long term payback opportunities. Camphausen noted that the old tech school is inadequate and in need of costly renovations if it is to continue being used for students, in addition to the trailers.
âThe option on the table (Basell property) is not viable,â Broomell declared. âI had a mandateâ from voters, she said, âno new taxes, jobs.â
But Camphausen and Branch said they had a mandate of their own: to provide votech for the students who need it. âThis is not over,â Branch said of the fight for the Basell project.
âItâs not an âusâ and âthem,â â Camphausen told Broomel and she criticized the âmindsetâ of some commissioners that they were being asked to do some sort of favor for the schools. âYouâre making an investment in your countyâs infrastructure.â
And at this point, CCPS is not even asking the commissioners for a commitment to proceed with the Basell site school.
School officials are just seeking authorization to negotiate with the property owners, who have set a $6.5 million asking price, and perform âdue diligenceâ with the engineering study to assess the feasibility of converting the building to school use. The building, which was fully renovated in 2006 and already includes state-of-the art science labs, is on 91 acres of land and schools officials have said some of the land could be used for county parks and recreation or sold off for a tech park to attract businesses that could also partner with the school for training, internships or eventual hiring of graduates for jobs.
Commissioner Hodge weighed in with a slap against the Amigos, saying the three âhad no interestâ in pursuing the opportunities that the Basell site offered. âWe are really shortchangingâ students, he said, by not offering job skills for the many students who will not be going on to college. âItâs an investmentâ in the countyâs future, he said, and not just âan expense,â and will âpay off in the long run.â
Overall, the CCPS proposal calls for the county commissioners to âinvestâ $10.3 million in the Basell site acquisition and renovation, with the state contributing $4.6 million to the project. CCPS would tap $1.5 million in schools reserve funds, as well as fronting the engineering study fees, moving costs and related expenses totaling about $300,000.