Baltimore County schools roll out plan for air-conditioning

Anyone who didn't believe that Reisterstown Elementary was enduring 105-degree classrooms this past month only needed to take a look at the kindergartners' crayons.

"The crayons that the kids color with are sweating," parent Lisa Ballard told Baltimore County school board members Wednesday night as a group of students and parents held signs proclaiming, "Too Hot to Think" and "Reisterstown is too hot to handle," and cheered her on from the crowd.

Reisterstown is among the dozens of schools in the county that do not have air conditioning. Officials said the system will begin making incremental progress in providing relief to six schools next year, and another dozen the year after that.

"We met with teachers at 7:30 a.m. in the morning, and we had sweat dripping off of us, the lights were off, and there were four fans in the room," said Anna Coleman, who has students at Reisterstown as well as at Franklin Middle School, which also does not have air conditioning.

The plan was presented in a status report, a highly anticipated rollout promised by new schools Superintendent Dallas Dance to chip away at the vast number of county schools where students endure conditions that parents say have resulted in heat-related illnesses.

But the school system is also working toward the overall goal of addressing the county schools' estimated $1.7 billion in infrastructure needs.

"While air conditioning is an issue for us," Dance told parents and advocates, "we shouldn't move from the conversation of facilities in general."

The schools scheduled to receive air conditioning in 2013 are Carroll Manor Elementary, Lutherville Laboratory, Elmwood Elementary, Seven Oaks Elementary, Arbutus Elementary and Hereford Middle.

In 2014, the following schools are slated to receive air conditioning in the county's capital improvement plan: Catonsville Elementary, Fort Garrison Elementary, Sudbrook Magnet Middle, Timonium Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Hebbville Elementary, Woodmoor Elementary, Middleborough Elementary, Middlesex Elementary, Sussex Elementary, Hereford High and Pikesville High.

The county's remaining schools will be assessed for air-conditioning capacity and air-quality concerns. Officials said it would cost up to $600 million to air-condition the remaining 31 elementary, eight middle and seven high schools.

After sounding off about the financial commitments it would take to address every infrastructure need, school board members voted to draft a resolution to lobby state and local lawmakers for funding to air-condition every facility that could support it.

County school operations officials emphasized the $1.4 billion investment in school infrastructure that has taken place in the past 15 years, when they had described buildings in "crisis mode." And since 2007, the number of students in air-conditioned buildings has increased by more than 13,000.

"You have to see where we were to appreciate where we are," said Michael Sines, chief operating officer for the system.

But what the schools will look like in the future still concerns Renee Kozak, who has a kindergartner and a 2-year-old who will attend county schools.

"If it continues this way," Kozak said, "my girls will go to school without air conditioning until they're in high school."

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