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Baltimore County Board of Education awards contracts for temporary air conditioning units at 3 schools

The Baltimore County Board of Education, during a remote teleconference meeting, awarded more than $16 million in matching state and county funds for contracts to build heating and air conditioning units at three county schools Tuesday, spurning board discussion about the cost-effectiveness of installing temporary units at schools already slated to be replaced.

Contracts were awarded for units at Lansdowne and Dulaney high schools and Bedford Elementary School.

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“Why are we talking about, like, $16 million for air conditioning if there’s a possibility these schools are going to be replaced in the relatively near future?” asked board member Rodney McMillion.

The units were expected to be installed by September, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may affect that timeline, said Pete Dixit, executive director of school facilities.

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Designing and building replacement schools could take five to seven years, Dixit said.

“There’s a lot of years where kids would be going to schools without air conditioning," said board member Lisa Mack, whose district encompasses Lansdowne. “I think it’s money well spent.”

The aging Lansdowne High School, where facilities have been poorly rated in assessments due to issues with its foundation and lack of air conditioning, already has money set aside for the design and eventual construction of a new building. School officials had said construction was contingent on the passage of the Built to Learn Act, which passed before the state legislature ended it session early due to the coronavirus.

Bedford Elementary and Lansdowne High are under design, but waiting on state funding, school system spokesman Brandon Oland said.

A replacement for Dulaney High School is in preliminary planning, he said.

“I just have concern about putting almost $16 million out there for air conditioning that’s gonna be ripped down in seven years,” said board member Moalie Jose.

Dixit noted “this initiative is very much geared because of the community’s interest. Because of what they wanted."

“The community, I don’t think, is aware of the fiscal impact,” Jose said.

Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction voted in mid-September to award funding to Baltimore County for the installation of temporary air and heat units in seven county schools. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced the county would provide the matching funds required by the state in October.

Board members voted in February to accept $14.2 million for the heating and air conditioning units.

The school system must spend the grant funding on the air conditioning units, said board member Lily Rowe, elected to the board in 2018 after advocating as a parent for improved school facilities.

“We either spend it the way they’re offering it or we don’t get it at all," she said. "This is done to prevent to closure of these non-air conditioned schools and the months of extremely uncomfortable, unhealthy conditions in which these children are learning in an inequitable environment,” Rowe said.

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In September 2018, Baltimore County closed 10 closed due to excessive heat, board chair Kathleen Causey said.

“It really is a matter of equity,” she added.

Dixit estimated 30% of the cost associated with installing the temporary units — which he said have a life cycle of between 10 to 15 years — could be recouped by reusing the units in other non-air conditioned rooms.

“As a system, we still have a lot of non-air conditioned spaces, including gyms, some classrooms and other spaces,” Dixit said.

Contracts were awarded to J.F. Fischer, Inc. authorizing the contractor to spend $6.6 million for temporary units at Lansdowne High and $9.3 million for units at Dulaney High. Towson Mechanical, Inc. was awarded a $1.6 million contract to install units at Bedford Elementary.

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