Dulaney High School is one of two high schools in Baltimore County that do not have air conditioning units.
Dulaney High School is one of two high schools in Baltimore County that do not have air conditioning units. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction voted Thursday to award $13.4 million to Baltimore County to install temporary air conditioning units in seven schools.

The money awarded requires matching funds from the county; the IAC-awarded money covers only 56% of the expected cost of installing vertical air conditioning units in classrooms at Dulaney High School, Lansdowne High School, Bedford Elementary School and the Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies.

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The panel also voted to grant funds for air conditioning work in the Western School of Technology and Eastern Technical High School, and a boiler replacement at Hampton Elementary School.

Board of Education member Lily Rowe, who represents the county’s 6th District, first became involved in Baltimore County education as an advocate when, in 2015, she started a group of parents and teachers who were concerned with facility conditions across the county, including a lack of air conditioning.

“I’m happy that we’re making progress,” said Rowe, who was elected to the Board of Education in 2018.

The school system had requested funding for eight schools, but the IAC did not vote to award funds to the Campfield Early Learning Center. According to the IAC agenda, granting funds for that school would have affected funding for the construction of a new Bedford Elementary School in fiscal year 2021.

The panel’s vote came on a day when eight county schools were closed because temperatures were too high in buildings that lacked air conditioning units.

“I appreciate the irony,” said Yara Cheik, vice president of the PTSA at Dulaney High School. She said she was happy to hear the news that the IAC voted to grant money to Baltimore County, even on a day when her two high school students were at home because of excessive heat conditions.

“It is welcome and long overdue news,” Cheik said. “But this isn’t about one school. This is about eight schools around the county.”

The vertical air conditioning units will be placed in individual classrooms and common areas, like gymnasiums and health rooms.

Four elementary schools, two high schools and two educational centers in Baltimore County lack air conditioning. The county has been working since 2017 to install central air conditioning in more than three dozen schools lacking it.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a long-time advocate of getting temporary air conditioning units in schools that need them, celebrated the vote on Facebook.

“[I] Can’t tell you how grateful I am for those exceptional public servants and community activists who pushed through all of that in order to bring us to this point,” he wrote.

There is still work to be done to improve schools in Baltimore County, he wrote, but “Today, however, we celebrate good people who did good by our kids.”

The money for temporary air conditioning units and other A/C work in seven county buildings comes from Maryland’s fiscal year 2020 Healthy Schools Fund, and requires matching funding from Baltimore County.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Thursday was not immediately able to confirm where the funding for the county’s match would come from, but said he was committed to finding both temporary and permanent solutions to ensure all schools in the county have safe and healthy learning environments.

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Rowe said she could not imagine the school system would have applied to receive money from the Healthy Schools Fund without having an idea of where the county match would come from, or without having a guarantee that it would come, but that she also did not know any details of the funding.

The school system did not immediately respond to a request for comment or clarification on the funding and installation process for the air conditioning units.

“The devil is in the details,” Cheikh said. “I want to see the calendar, I want to see the matching funds in place.”

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