Six Baltimore County schools moved to top of list for air conditioning

Six elementary schools in the York Road corridor may get air conditioning sooner than expected thanks to the efforts of community representatives.

The Baltimore County Board of Education has introduced a budget request that makes air conditioning at these schools a priority for funding.

"It's important to get moved up the priority list," said Fifth District County Councilman David Marks. He and Sixth District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins spearheaded the effort to advance the schools, which were added to the Baltimore County Public Schools list in 2012, to priority status.

The county school board has prioritized the following schools: in the Fifth District, Carney and Joppa View elementary schools; in the Sixth District, Chase Elementary, Halstead Academy and Villa Crest Elementary; and, overlapping both districts, Pleasant Plains Elementary.

Addition to the priority list doesn't guarantee funding, which costs $2 to $2.5 million per school, according to Marks. The process also involves approval of the county school board's proposed budget, approval by the state committee on school appropriations and voter approval of a 2014 school bond referendum. The state ultimately decides which schools to fund, based on the BCPS' priority order.

Despite the lengthy process, Marks called a successful outcome "a near certainty."

If approved, plans call for design work in 2015 and construction in 2016 in time for the 2016-2017 academic year.

"These improvements will enhance the learning environment for thousands of students across central and eastern Baltimore County," Bevins said in statement in which she also thanked the Board of Education and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for their support.

Marks and Bevins began advocating for the schools' addition to the priority list two years ago. Community activists such as Jason Garber, president of the Association of Loch Raven Village, soon joined them. Garber's daughter will be attending Pleasant Plains Elementary School.

"We've been trying for years. We discussed air conditioning with Dr. [Dallas] Dance," Garber said. "It's a big deal to get on the priority list."

Pleasant Plains is the only two-story school among the six schools. And, without air conditioning, it does get hot. "We held a meeting there one night in June. It got so hot we had to break out fans just to be able to sit in the gymnasium," said Garber.

"We're very pleased with the efforts to make air conditioning happen in our school," said Maureen Partilla, principle of Pleasant Plains, which had 585 students in pre-K through fifth grade..

"Temperature can interfere with learning," continued Partilla, who noted that on the school's second floor, when the temperature reaches a certain level, the school puts two fans in each classroom for air flow.

"Air conditioning will help the educational environment in the school," she said.

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