While the new windows at Ridgely Middle School in Timonium look great, they are unsuited for hot weather. Half of them don't open at all and the rest only open a few inches but are, in many cases, blocked by support beams.
On days like Monday, after the building that houses 1,100 students has been shut for the weekend, "the heat just backs up and stays in the school," said Julie Sugar, past PTA president and mother of an eighth-grader. "The heat can't escape because of the new windows. The sunny side of the building bakes."
Baltimore County renovated the school three years ago with design elements that would maximize planned air conditioning units, including tighter windows, an insulated roof and lowered ceilings. But the air conditioning units or chillers were never installed.
"They are advanced enough to teach Chinese here, but it's 96 degrees and the kids are soaking wet," said state Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "How can they absorb anything?"
Parents, frustrated with the lack of response from the school board, organized a tour for officials Monday that quickly demonstrated the stifling conditions in the classrooms, particularly those on the second floor. Minutes after the 3 p.m. dismissal, the empty rooms remained uncomfortably warm.
"Last week, it was 94 [degrees] in this classroom, when my daughter was taking her finals," said Kay Hardisky, PTA president. The temperature Monday afternoon in that same room was 87 degrees, with only three of the eight windows opened slightly.
County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a 2nd District Democrat, climbed atop a cabinet and tried unsuccessfully to pry open a window. At a recent council meeting, he repeatedly asked school officials the rationale for what he called totally unsuitable windows.
"I was unimpressed with their answers," he said. He has also asked if Ridgely Middle is the only building with window issues.
"It sounds like someone made the decision at the last minute to cut out the chillers and save money," he said. "If that is the problem, we may have to bite the bullet and address this."
The cost to install the chillers would be about $900,000 and the work could be done this summer, Brochin said.
"The county has made a mistake and is not doing anything about it," Brochin said. "These students are stuck with a comedy of errors in a place totally set up for air conditioning."
While only four days remain of this school year, Septembers in Maryland can be scorching, parents said.
"The kids can't function or concentrate," said Kelly Ena, a sixth-grade math teacher, who keeps two of her own fans running constantly in a room where half the windows are stationary.
The officials, dressed in business attire, were dripping with sweat after about a half-hour.
"Imagine what it's like after six and a half hours, going up and down the stairs," Sugar said.