When Mayor Jonathan S. Herman asked the Sykesville Town Council what to discuss with Carroll's school superintendent today, members all had the same answer: air conditioning at the middle school. Charles I. Ecker will meet with officials from all eight towns in the next few months to discuss municipal concerns with the school system.
Although temperatures are hovering near the freezing point, Ecker will probably hear a lot about heat today. Herman, a father of four school-aged children, will relay several complaints about temperature and air quality at Sykesville Middle School.
"The school needs air conditioning terribly," said Dennis J. Hoover, town attorney. "It is not just because of the heat. There are health problems, particularly for kids with allergies. The building is so dusty."
When Sykesville Middle School pupils took the annual assessment exams in the spring, the temperature in most classrooms was 94 degrees, said Donald M. Pyles, principal.
"I am not satisfied with our scores," Pyles said. "But, the counterparts of these kids were taking the same tests in 70-degree classrooms."
The Board of Education has $1.3 million in its 2003 capital improvements budget for an air-conditioning system at Sykesville Middle School. The project is set for funding after July 1, 2002.
"The board has identified Sykesville Middle School as its primary project that year," said Steven Powell, county director of management and budget.
Several town officials have children attending the school and can attest to the stifling conditions in the nearly 50-year-old brick building, which has little landscaping for shade. They would like to see improvements sooner.
Councilman Michael Burgoyne recalled the "Back-to-School Night" in September, an evening that draws hundreds of parents.
"Outlets in all the classrooms were jammed with lines for fans and they were only blowing hot air," he said. "Let's take care of kids in the existing schools before we build new ones."
The school, built in the late 1950s, was remodeled 15 years ago with the intent of adding air conditioning.
"They ran out of money and did not air-condition," Pyles said.
During the 1985 remodeling, small windows, designed for temperature-controlled buildings, replaced larger ones. The school has a problem with airflow, pollen and dust, Pyles said.
"The majority of these kids live in air-conditioned houses and drive in air-conditioned cars," he said. "Life today is air-conditioned. It is devastating to expect these kids to come to work in this environment. It is ludicrous that the county cannot give them this advantage."
The staff does what it can to make classrooms more comfortable. When temperatures climb, fans run constantly and pupils are encouraged take chilled water bottles to class.
"I have to wring them out when they get home," said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols of her two middle-school children. "This is an issue of parity. I am insulted by the lack of amenities. If everyone went without air conditioning, it would be OK."
Councilman Charles B. Mullins added, "It would be cheaper to put air conditioning in that one school than it would be to take it out of all the other ones."