Old Post Road elementary without heat for another week, school officials say

Students and teachers have been doing without heat for more than a week in eight classrooms of the Old Post Road building on the William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School campus in Abingdon, a Harford County Public Schools spokesperson confirmed.

The problem should be fixed by next week, Teri Kranefeld, communications manager for Harford County Public Schools, explained in e-mails Wednesday and Thursday.

"The heat is currently not working in the E wing of the Old Post Road building, which includes about eight classrooms," Kranefeld wrote. "Our facilities department has been on site working to fix the problem, however, they are awaiting a valve that is expected to arrive within the week."

She said when HCPS heating, ventilation and air conditioning crews came to the school Oct. 19 to turn on the heat, "they discovered a valve that services the E wing frozen in the closed position." Plumbers were then contacted to help with the situation Oct. 20, but were unable to open the valve.

"It was then determined that valve needed to be replaced. The valve was to take five to seven days to be delivered from the manufacturer," Kranefeld wrote.

Earlier this week, a man wrote in an e-mail to The Aegis that the school has "been without [heat] a few weeks now."

While he acknowledged that the school system was "rushing to fix the problem," the e-mailer added that he believes the push is on now because American Education Week begins Monday, and visiting parents would soon find out the conditions at the school.

"Their [the school] short-term solution is to put two space heaters in every classroom and not notify the parents," the e-mailer, who asked that his name not be disclosed because he has friends and relatives who are teachers at the school, wrote. The space heaters, he continued, are potential safety hazards to the young students, as well as to the teachers.

"The teachers have been told if they feel the heaters are unsafe that the heaters will be removed and they'll have no heat," he added.

During last week's parent-teacher conferences, he wrote, the school held the meetings in the William Paca building, effectively "hiding" the situation.

Kranefeld, however, didn't mention the use of space heaters in the school, but instead explained some classes were shifted to rooms that have heat, in part because there are fewer students attending this year.

William Paca/Old Post Road is classified as a failing school by the Maryland Department of Education and, as a result, students have been able to transfer out the past two school years.

Kranefeld said Thursday the school has a capacity of 940 students, with an enrollment of 740 as of November 2010. Enrollment figures for 2011 aren't due to be released until later this month, but they are expected to be lower than last year, again because of transfers out.

"As William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary experienced a lower enrollment this year, they have been afforded the ability to move classes to rooms that are heated during the cooler morning hours and as deemed necessary by the teachers," Kranefeld noted in one of her e-mails.

Once the replacement valve arrives, Kranefeld wrote, "crews will work as necessary to get the part installed and the heat up and running as soon as possible." She added that heat should be restored in "approximately one week."

The problem of having an aging heating system at Old Post Road is just one of several issues for a building, one of the oldest in the Harford school system, that is due to either be replaced or extensively renovated.

In September, however, the Harford County Board of Education delayed making any final decision on renovations/replacement projects for William Paca/Old Post Road, as well as for Homestead Wakefield Elementary in Bel Air and Youth's Benefit Elementary in Fallston, while the board reviews all capital project priorities and the availability of funding.

William Paca/Old Post Road is also classified as a Title I school because of its percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches under federal guidelines — 64 percent in 2010-11, according to the Maryland Department of Education's website.

In the 2009-10 school year, William Paca/Old Post Road was considered the largest Title I elementary school in the state based upon total enrollment. More than 200 students left before the 2010-11 school year, however, after the school failed to meet yearly progress targets set by the state, triggering the transfer out option that continued in effect prior to the current school year.

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