Dance to review schools without air conditioning

After the 2007 renovation of Ridgely Middle School, then-PTA president Julie Sugar noticed a significant drawback to the changes because of the lack of air conditioning.

"The classrooms were 5 to 10 degrees hotter," she said. "Many of the windows didn't open, and those that did only opened a few inches, causing the rooms to sometimes be hotter than it was outside."

Sugar was unhappy with what she called the sometimes dangerous environment in those Baltimore County schools that, like Ridgely, were without air conditioning, and decided to lobby for an upgrade.

Over the past few years, Ridgely has received air conditioning and the situation has improved throughout the county. This week, new Superintendent Dallas Dance agreed to provide a review of the several dozen schools that remain without air conditioning so the county can decide how it wants to proceed.

"It is a priority of mine that we do want facilities that are most conducive to learning," Dance said. "Getting cool air for these schools is part of that."

Sixty-eight percent of the county's schools now have some sort of air conditioning, according to Board of Education President Larry Schmidt.

Twelve schools were budgeted to receive air conditioning for fiscal year 2013, which would leave 49 schools still without cool air.

The review, which Schmidt said is expected to be done in September, should give the board information on which schools lend themselves the easiest to installment of air conditioning, and which schools have problems that will make installation more complicated.

"When you install air conditioning, you want to do it right, and that means installing central air," Schmidt said. "When you do that, some of the electrical systems of some of the buildings couldn't support central air."

The structural problems stem from the system having the second-oldest stock of school buildings in the state, some of them as many as 60 years old.

Schmidt said that equipping schools with air conditioning is a priority, but older buildings also require maintenance to keep the cooling systems in good condition.

"Do we want every school to be air-conditioned? Absolutely," he said. "But we have a finite amount of dollars to make these schools the best environment to learn in."

Schmidt also suggested that when it came time to equip the oldest schools, it might be more cost-effective to erect new buildings.

Sugar, who has a son attending air-conditioned Loch Raven High School this year, still worries about the kids who have to sit in hot classrooms.

"We can't be sending our kids into a place where it is too hot to keep our dog," she said.

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