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Calverton Elementary/Middle School students to move to different building as Baltimore battles facility issues

As students and staff returned Tuesday to a West Baltimore school that recently experienced extensive heating and plumbing problems, they learned they will be moving to a different building by early February.

Calverton Elementary/Middle School was closed for much of the first two weeks of 2018 after an extended cold snap exposed major problems in the 55-year-old building.

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The school was among the roughly 85 city schools that reported problems with heating or pipes during the first few weeks of January, as Baltimore experienced one of the longest runs of sub-freezing temperatures in decades.

Calverton reopened Tuesday after school system officials announced that all repairs had been made to the school, which is slated to be replaced under the district’s 21st Century School Buildings Program, a $1 billion plan to modernize up to 28 aging schools.

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The problems associated with the extreme cold prompted district administrators to expedite the process of moving students out of the Whitmore Avenue building, which houses roughly 650 students, said a city schools spokeswoman, Edie House-Foster.

“City Schools’ operations staff is concerned that, because of the aging systems and the extra stress on the building so far this winter, there will be more plumbing and heating problems,” district officials wrote in a letter home to families. “Rather than risk needing to close the building again for repairs, we are moving the school so that teaching and learning won’t be interrupted.”

The weather and related facilities issues closed schools systemwide for two days in the first week of the year, and the district ordered more extended closures at a handful of schools.

By Jan. 10, all schools had reopened except for Calverton. Since schools were closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Tuesday was the first day back in the classroom for Calverton’s 650 students since Jan. 2.

Even as Calverton reopened, the city school district announced that Lakewood Elementary School and City Springs Elementary/Middle School closed at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday because of problems with their heating systems.

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The school district plans to move Calverton's students by Feb. 5 to the West Baltimore School Building, which has been used as “swing space” for other schools as their own buildings are renovated.

Lyndhurst Elementary/Middle School is currently housed in the building, located on N. Bend Road in the Westgate neighborhood, but Lyndhurst students are scheduled to move into a new building after spring break.

House-Foster said Calverton will remain housed in the West Baltimore School Building until its school is rebuilt, a project scheduled for completion in September 2021.

Calverton will share the gym, cafeteria and media center in the building with the other schools. Although the West Baltimore School Building is also old — it was constructed in 1963 — district officials said it is in better shape than Calverton and more easily maintained.

“Facilities staff are working now to address maintenance issues and clean the building thoroughly, to make sure it is ready prior to the move,” they wrote in the letter to families.

The West Baltimore School Building is more than three miles from Calverton’s current space, but the district said it is the closest building that has enough space to support the school community. Administrators are still working on a plan to provide student transportation.

School administrators also are discussing various ways to help Calverton students make up for more than a week of lost learning time. They are considering extending the school day or the school year, offering learning opportunities over spring break, ensuring summer education programs and providing additional tutoring.

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Baltimore City Public Schools had to close several schools due to freezing conditions. Gov. Larry Hogan blamed mismanagement with capital funding; school officials blamed the state funding process. Both have a point.

Baltimore has some of the state’s oldest school buildings, and facilities staff have worked “around the clock” to make repairs to boilers and pipes across the city after photos went viral in early January showing students huddling in frigid classrooms. Some classroom thermometers read in the 30s and 40s during the first week back in school.

The images prompted widespread outrage and criticism, including from Gov. Larry Hogan, of Baltimore city leaders and school administrators. The governor faulted the city with “mismanagement” of state aid for school repairs.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Maryland General Assembly leaders called on the governor to double the $2.5 million in financial aid he pledged for Baltimore school heating projects. The money would come from an emergency fund that the legislators control.

The group, known as the Legislative Policy Committee, urged Hogan in a letter to spend $5 million instead.

“The images of our children in our schools shown across Maryland and across the country are an embarrassment to all of us,” wrote House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. “We respectfully request that you consider amending your request to the Legislative Policy Committee to $5 million to address this exigent need.”

Baltimore schools officials estimate that they need $38 million for work on boilers and other heating, ventilation and cooling systems, the letter said. The school system has a backlog of repairs in part because the city has had to forgo $66 million in state aid because projects came in over budget or were delayed.

To get Calverton ready to reopen, House-Foster said, workers had to make “major repairs” to the copper heating supply lines that feed into each room and fix isolated leaks throughout the building.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this report.

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