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Baltimore schools better prepared for wintry temperatures

The Baltimore Teachers Union is urging the city to close down all schools until officials get a handle on heating problems that have already closed some buildings and left children shivering in others. (Kim Hairston, Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

With colder weather now regularly in the forecast, the recent article on winter preparedness at Baltimore City Public Schools (“How are Baltimore schools preparing for winter after last year’s heating disaster?” November 26, 2018) is timely. As private sector leaders in real estate development, construction and property management, we and others in the industry came together early this year at the request of city schools CEO Sonja Santelises to provide pro bono analysis and advice to city schools. We have been impressed with the district’s strategic planning, its approach to maximizing the impact of very limited resources and its proactive decision to reach out to the private sector to capitalize on its expertise.

The school system has a capital need of about $3 billion to repair and upgrade a buildings portfolio that includes many of the oldest schools in the state, but the district receives only about $50 million each year in capital funding. With this kind of gap, dollars must go mostly to emergency repairs and critical maintenance is deferred. Nevertheless, despite limited funds, the district has taken steps to reduce the impact of cold weather on heating systems that are in many cases working far beyond their life cycles, reallocating scarce resources to better address maintenance and manage work orders. An automated system for round-the-clock monitoring of building temperatures will be installed in most buildings by the end of the month, greatly increasing facilities staff’s ability to respond quickly to potential problems — and to keep students, families and staff informed about concerns in specific buildings.

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In all, our industry advisory group is confident that the school system has done everything it can to prepare for the winter of 2019. The long-term solution must be to significantly increase funding to address capital needs and an adequate ongoing revenue stream to support appropriate maintenance. But the district is in a better place today than it was when last winter’s extreme cold set in and held on.

Scott Dorsey, Chairman and CEO of Merritt Companies

Donald Manekin, Founding Member of Seawall Development

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