School air conditioning proposed

'Considerable work' still needed to renovate and modernize Baltimore County school buildings, according to facilities report

December 16, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

A new report on Baltimore County school facilities recommends studying the possible inclusion of air conditioning in the district's high school renovation program, which has a total projected cost of about $1 billion.

"Even with everything that has been accomplished over the last ten years, considerable work remains to be done to bring all of our facilities into the 21st century," the report stated. It also indicated that the cost of possible renovations for elementary and special schools - including the systems required for air conditioning - could exceed an additional $1 billion.

Over the past decade, more than $1 billion in capital funds has been spent on new schools, as well as renovation projects at elementary, middle and special schools, according to the report.

"We're now at a place, because of the advances and improvements that we've been able to make, to make a legitimate attempt at bringing air conditioning into schools," schools spokeswoman Kara E.B. Calder said yesterday. "It will take a long time, and it will be contingent on funding."

Slightly more than half of the district's 171 school, center and program buildings lack air conditioning, according to the report. For months, parents have raised concerns, with several speaking at board meetings and documenting the effect of high temperatures in certain schools.

The facilities department report, which is scheduled to come before the Board of Education during today's work session, leaves many questions unanswered, some parents said yesterday.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, a member of the climate-control committee at Ridgely Middle School in Lutherville, said she was disappointed in its lack of detail, particularly after anticipating its arrival for several months.

The more than 100 pages of information on facilities failed to provide any type of prioritization or cost estimate for individual schools to get air conditioning, she said.

"This report is the equivalent of the emperor's having no clothes," said Taylor-Mitchell, who has continued to serve on the Ridgely committee even though her son is now a high school freshman. "There is not even a fig leaf here."

In fall 2007, Ridgely parents collected photographs of temperature gauges, which showed inside temperatures were about 10 degrees higher than outside.

"We're not giving up," said Laura Mullen, whose daughter attends the school, yesterday. "That is not a done deal at all."

Board President JoAnn C. Murphy said yesterday that the report "is at least a starting point."

"We know that it's going to have to be strategic and over a long period of time," she said, referring to the process of air-conditioning a number of facilities.

The board has also asked for "some strategic plan, not necessarily in this report, but for the future," she added.

The sheer scope of facilities to contend with, as well as a current lack of funding, makes specifying dates and prices difficult, Murphy said. "We're not going to promise things to people that we can't deliver. ... We're taking a cautious approach."

"I know it will get hot again, but people, I hope, will understand that we really are looking to put a plan in place," Murphy said. "It's just extremely complicated."

Last summer, Murphy indicated the issue was one the board thought deserved more attention, noting its "direct impact on student achievement."

Board Vice President H. Edward Parker and member Ramona N. Johnson echoed that sentiment at a more recent meeting.

"We've all been inside these buildings and know how extremely hot it gets," Johnson said at that time.

Michael Sines, executive director of physical facilities, told the board that "there are tough decisions coming. ... Obviously, there's a lot of projects, a lot of competing priorities."

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