With several Baltimore County schools closed because of record high temperatures for October, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Wednesday that the county will spend $16 million — paired with additional state money — to install air conditioning and heating units in county schools.
The county executive said some schools being closed Wednesday served as “an opportunity to highlight the need” for long- and short-term solutions.
Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction voted in mid-September to award $13.4 million to Baltimore County for the installation of temporary air and heat units in seven county schools.
The state funds are expected to cover about 56% of the cost of installing air conditioning units in classrooms at Bedford Elementary School, Dulaney High School, Eastern Technical High School, Lansdowne High School, Western School of Technology/Science and the Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies. Hampton Elementary School is getting a boiler replacement.
County funding will come from a reserve fund and cost savings from previous air conditioning projects.
Olszewski said he wanted to get the units installed as quickly as possible but cautioned that construction projects can be difficult while the school year is ongoing.
He said he hopes that work could “start as early as the upcoming spring into summer.” Projects that are funded by the state commission’s Healthy School Facility Fund are expected to be completed by spring 2021, county officials said.
Though the funds have been awarded by the commission and matched by the county, the projects have to go through Baltimore County Public Schools’ contracting and approval process.
“This has been something that’s been supported by our administration,” said Brandon Oland, a school system spokesman. “We will get to work as soon as we can.”
Oland said there needs to be some discussion about implementation, and coordination between the county government and the county school system.
On Wednesday, Olszewski also called on Gov. Larry Hogan to “release the $127 million in school construction funding that he has withheld” during the 2019 legislative session.
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, said Olszewski “has a funny way of saying thank you, considering that the governor provided the $30 million in funding for fixing these dire air conditioning problems.”
Hogan tweeted about the news Wednesday evening: “We have been pushing for Baltimore County to install these air conditioners for five years. Today, the County Executive is finally taking action for the good of the students and teachers. Baltimore City needs to do the same.”
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Last year, the Maryland General Assembly created the Healthy School Facility Fund, requiring Hogan to appropriate $30 million both this year and next year for critical repairs to schools’ heating and air conditioning systems.
Ricci also noted the legislature failed to pass a school construction bill during the last legislative session.
Lily Rowe, a Baltimore County Board of Education member and long-time advocate for improved facility conditions in the county, said she was “overjoyed” that Olszewski “recognizes the need for both short-term and long-term solutions to hot unsafe classroom conditions.”
Lansdowne High School, which has been poorly rated in facilities assessments because of issues with its foundation and lack of air conditioning, among other concerns, already has had money set aside for the design and eventual construction of a new building. Bedford Elementary School also is scheduled to be replaced.
County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, whose district includes Lansdowne, said he was more focused on a “total solution” for replacement of the school.
“It’s a very expensive short-term fix, but hopefully it will bring considerable relief for students,” Quirk said of the air conditioning units.
Baltimore Sun Media reporter Taylor DeVille contributed to this article.