Baltimore pushing to get schools operating with heat by Monday

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Baltimore school officials have crews working overtime this weekend to restore heat to schools where pipes have burst and boilers have broken down, in an effort to open schools Monday.

Mayor Catherine Pugh has enlisted private contractors who are working with about 30 or 40 city school employees to make repairs Saturday and Sunday, according to Keith Scroggins, the school system’s chief operating officer.

Last week, when the cold weather hit and schools reopened after a holiday break, about 60 school buildings experienced heat-related problems, prompting outrage over images of children in classrooms in winter coats and hats, and finger-pointing among public officials.

On Friday, with the schools closed due to frigid conditions, state legislators called for changes to a system of state construction funding that, they say, puts the city at a disadvantage and forced the school system to return millions of dollars for much-needed repairs. Gov. Larry Hogan, meanwhile, blasted what he deemed “mismanagement” in the schools.

Pugh called the school conditions unacceptable and ordered city department heads to recruit contractors for weekend work at more than 100 school buildings.

Scroggins said workers had fixed the problems in all but about 20 buildings by Saturday morning.

Ten schools had serious problems, while about another 10 had more minor problems.

By Saturday evening, Scroggins said, the heating systems at only two school buildings had major problems to solve — Calverton Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore, and the building at 2500 E. Northern Parkway that houses the Friendship Academy of Technology and Engineering, a middle school and high school, and the N.A.C.A. Freedom and Democracy II Academy, a middle school.

School officials were working inside the central office on North Avenue this weekend from a command center that had been set up to field calls. Dozens of city school workers were checking every school to document the temperature within each building and make sure that all the windows were closed.

But even as the crews were clearing up one problem, other problems continue to arise, Scroggins said.

With the temperature at 11 degrees Saturday morning, Scroggins said, “things can get quickly out of hand as they did last week.” On Saturday, for instance, school employees discovered a burst pipe in the heater in a classroom at Margaret Brent Elementary School on East 26th Street in North Baltimore. Problems also developed at Steuart Hill Academic Academy in West Baltimore, he said.

About eight workers were also dispatched to Calverton Elementary/Middle School.

Scroggins said school officials are grateful for contractors who have sent dozens of workers to the schools this weekend to help make repairs.

Pugh, he said, called on Rudy Chow, the director of public works, and other city department heads to recruit contractors to help. Six crews from Knott Mechanical, mechanical and heating specialists from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and workers from several other companies, along with the school system’s engineers, worked on heating systems at more than 100 school buildings.

“It was a very big day,” Scroggins said.

“We are appreciative of the mayor pushing all these resources” to the schools, he said.

Crews will work Sunday at the schools with the most serious heating problems that need to be repaired, and about a dozen people are working at one school alone, he said.

“We still think we will be able to get them done” by Monday, Scroggins said, but added that much would depend on whether other breaks in pipes or problems with boilers arose in the next couple of days.

The weather service forecasts lows Saturday night into Sunday morning that could dip to 2 degrees, which would break a record low of 3 degrees set four years ago Jan. 7.

From there, temperatures are expected to warm up somewhat. Highs are forecast in the lower 20s Sunday — a level that is on par with normal lows for this time of year, but 5-10 degrees above record cold.

On Monday, temperatures could rise a few degrees above freezing for the first time in the new year and only the second time in two weeks.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lizbowie

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