Parents Rally Over Hot Issue

Seek Air Conditioning For Ridgely Middle School

September 16, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Dozens of Baltimore County parents rallied Tuesday in Towson, continuing to push for air conditioning in a Lutherville middle school where they say a renovation project has made the classrooms intolerable on warm days.

Ridgely Middle School parents have been seeking a solution for about two years, ever since the school was renovated with design features - tighter windows, lowered ceilings and an insulated roof - to maximize air-conditioning efficiency. But the cooling units were never installed because the project budget did not include money for the equipment, school officials have said.

"We have got to get the county executive and the school system to the table to fix the problems at Ridgely," said Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, a member of the Ridgely PTA's climate-control committee.

She spoke to a crowd Tuesday that frequently erupted into cheers, applause and chants of "Fix Ridgely now." Many carried signs - "Cakes should be baked not children" and "We are hot! Give Ridgely A/C now!"

"Renovation means to make new, not to make worse," said Jean Suda, a former Ridgely parent who said her son was taken to the hospital after suffering from severe dehydration during a particularly hot September 2007 day. "Ridgely's renovation is a mistake whose correction is long overdue."

State Sen. James Brochin, one of several elected officials at the rally, called on the superintendent and county executive to visit the school. "You will see immediately that there is a problem," he said.

Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., said, "We're confident that the school system is taking a comprehensive look at the issue of air conditioning," referring to comments school officials have made about developing priorities and addressing them as funding becomes available. "I'm confident that that's what they will do, in a very organized and strategic fashion," Mohler said.

Ridgely parents contend that many of the new windows installed in the school don't open or open just a few inches, inhibiting air flow. "The renovations at Ridgely two years ago left the school sealed up," said Laura Mullen, whose eighth-grader, Hayley, attends the school. Those "mishandled renovations" made it a special case, she added.

In other schools with similar window systems, most classroom windows open - and much more widely than Ridgely's, said Julie Sugar, a member of the climate-control committee whose child completed eighth grade last year.

"For some reason, they're still unwilling to acknowledge the problem," Sugar said. "The parents are really frustrated ... and we've reached our limit."

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz said Tuesday that he has asked the county auditor to investigate whether the situation at Ridgely is unique, using temperature logs and other data, and to find alternative funding sources, such as federal stimulus money or excess funds from other projects.

"We commend the councilman in seeking an amenable resolution," said Kara E.B. Calder, a schools spokeswoman, who declined to comment further.

Slightly more than half of the county's school, center and program buildings lack air conditioning. During a presentation last December, school officials said it could take seven to 10 years to install air conditioning in the nearly 90 schools without it - and that retrofitting buildings just for air conditioning could easily exceed $450 million.

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