On first day: new Lansdowne Elementary opens; Lansdowne High closed due to lack of air-conditioning

As hundreds of students excitedly flocked into the brand new air-conditioned Lansdowne Elementary building on the first day of the school year Tuesday morning, a little more than 1 mile away, Lansdowne High School was closed due to a lack of air conditioning on what was predicted to be a 90-degree-plus day, and parents were steamed.

Shellie Kuhl-Bosley, of Arbutus, said she and her family have dealt with heat issues at Lansdowne High for about eight years now.

“Missing time for heat no matter when it is makes it a bad situation,” she said.

Her daughter, a 17-year-old senior, was “sleeping her life away,” Kuhl-Bosley said Tuesday morning. Kuhl-Bosley said she was “not at all” happy with school being closed due to heat, because she doesn’t want her daughter to miss class time.

In Baltimore County, 10 public schools without air conditioning, including Lansdowne High, were closed Tuesday because of a heat advisory from the National Weather Service from noon-7 p.m. Temperatures were in the mid-90s with dew points — a measure of humidity — in the mid 70s, creating a heat index of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the NWS.

Baltimore County Public Schools announced Tuesday afternoon that the same 10 schools would be closed Wednesday.

Lansdowne Elementary was one of several Baltimore County Public Schools that County Executive Don Mohler, interim Superintendent Verletta White and other officials visited, including the new Honeygo Elementary School in Perry Hall. At Lansdowne Elementary, Councilman Tom Quirk and delegates Eric Ebersole and Clarence Lam joined them for a tour of the new school.

One first-grade teacher, Stefanie Davis, thanked the officials for visiting and spending time in her classroom, and speaking with her students.

“And thank you for the air conditioning!” she added as the visitors moved to the next classroom.

About 580 students are registered to attend Lansdowne Elementary, according to principal Stephen Price, who also said that he expects 600 students in total will register. The school was built with a capacity for 700 students.

The two-story building houses five classrooms for grades kindergarten through fifth grade in addition to pre-kindergarten classrooms, an art classroom with a kiln, “extended learning areas” in surrounding areas and hallways for group work, a cafeteria with two lunch lines, two music rooms and a gymnasium.

Price said the new school building, because of its layout, design and features, is a tool that instructors and staff have to help students meet “high expectations.”

“We’re excited and honored to have this facility at our disposal,” Price said.

Mohler said he was disappointed for students, teachers and parents who did not get to start school Tuesday, but was feeling “really good” about how Baltimore County has progressed in terms of equipping more schools with air conditioning. He also said the county needs to do more in terms of installing air conditioning.

“To use a football metaphor, seven years ago, we were on our own 10-yard line. Now we're at the one. We need to score,” Mohler said.

Mohler said that he hoped that by Friday, high temperatures would not be an issue and all county students could get to school.

BCPS has plans and a schedule for installation of air conditioning in all schools. Plans for Lansdowne and Dulaney high schools are marked “to be determined,” pending the construction of brand new buildings or large-scale renovations.

Carlette Flowers, vice president of the Lansdowne High School PTSA, said it was “very upsetting” that some schools were closed today because of temperature issues.

She said her 16-year-old son in the school’s magnet program for vocal music, was “all prepared to go to school.”

“It is so sad that in 2018 we are still dealing with schools with no air conditioning,” Flowers said.

Mandy Green, president of the school’s PTSA, agreed. Green, who has a 16-year-old junior at Lansdowne High, said she has been treated “phenomenally” by Lansdowne High, and has “nothing against [the school] at all.”

But she said she could not “wrap her head around” how any school in the county does not have air conditioning.

Green said she’s in the building a lot, usually for short visits, but until she went to back-to-school night late in August, she did not realize how hot the building could get. She said she had trouble focusing while she moved between classrooms and met teachers during the evening because the building was so hot.

“That’s the first time it hit me, like, ‘Oh my gosh, my son has to sit in 90-minute classes without a window, without a fan, dripping in sweat.’ The poor teachers have to do this all day long. How do you expect them to concentrate when all they can think about is ‘how am I going to get cooled off?'” Green said. “They’re basically in brick ovens all day, baking.”

Some parents have called for BCPS to install portable air conditioners at Lansdowne High rather than spending the time and money to build central HVAC systems.

Quirk, whose district includes Lansdowne High, said that might not be prudent. Installing portable units, he said, could make Lansdowne High’s need for a new building seem less urgent.

“I think we really need to go for the big solution,” Quirk said. “I know some people are talking about [portable AC], I think that might actually stall the longer-term solution, which is really a brand new school or a substantial renovation.”

Quirk said his priority over “the next couple years” would be to get construction for Lansdowne High “fast-tracked.”

“We're working as hard as we can to get this done as fast as we can, just making sure it gets done right,” he said.

In the meantime, students, teachers and staff will have to adapt to conditions inside the school building — which, for the time being, may mean canceling school if temperatures are high.

“We, as the system, we have to focus on student safety,” said Ken Miller, principal of Lansdowne High. “Obviously, we want the students to come in and the teachers are excited. I’m excited to get the students into the school year.”

In addition to Lansdowne High, Woodlawn and Dulaney high schools, Patapsco Center for the Arts, Campfield Early Learning Center, Catonsville Alternative Learning Center, and Bedford, Berkshire, Colgate and Dundalk elementary schools were closed Tuesday.

cboteler@baltsun.com

twitter.com/codyboteler

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