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Cooling Crisis: City’s Schools Battle Heat, Budget


By Dan Hounsell Maintenance & Operations
Old electric fan on table

The Baltimore County School District can’t win for losing. The district’s aging stock of facilities presents challenges familiar to managers many institutional and commercial facilities in the public sector that are buckling under the weight of deferred maintenance. But even well-intentioned efforts to make the best of a bad situation and cope with failing facility systems run into problems.

Last summer, the district was forced to cancel classes and cut school days short when a heat wave and faulty HVAC systems combined to make classrooms in some schools unbearable. So this year, to compensate for the lack of air conditioning, the Baltimore Teachers Union is trying to get ahead of the problem by raising money and collecting donated fans for classrooms where temperatures sometimes exceed 100 degrees.

But administrators say plugging in too many of the fans could strain the aging electrical systems in many of the city’s schools to the breaking point, according to The Baltimore Sun.

And this is not even the first time people have sought donations for do-it-yourself fixes to structural issues in Baltimore school buildings. In the winter of 2017 a GoFundMe page quickly raised more than $80,000 to buy heaters and other resources for city school kids after photos went viral showing students wearing coats and mittens in frigid classrooms.

The district is about halfway through a five-year plan to address climate control problems in its buildings. Roughly 50 schools still lack air-conditioning, according to facilities officials. Seven schools were outfitted with cooling units over the summer, they said, with seven more in the construction phase.

They also have installed sensors that alert facilities staff if temperatures spike in certain classrooms and have crafted an inclement weather policy dictating when students should be dismissed early because of cooling problems.

Dan Hounsell is editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

 

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