Air-con­di­tion­ing speed-up asked

Balto. County wants state to waive rules to let it be­gin by start of next school year

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Liz Bowie and Erin Cox liz.bowie@balt­sun.com ecox@balt­sun.com

A state school con­struc­tion panel is ex­pected to de­cide Thurs­day whether to grant Bal­ti­more County a waiver that would al­low it to speed in­stal­la­tion of cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing in12 schools by the start of next school year.

With­out the waiver, Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz’s plan to re­duce the num­ber of schools with­out air con­di­tion­ing from 37 to 12 would fall apart. He would have to de­cide whether the county should cover the en­tire cost of the $99 mil­lion project with­out state fund­ing, or wait a year and get the as­sis­tance but in­cur the wrath of par­ents and state of­fi­cials who have called on him re­peat- edly to in­stall por­ta­ble win­dow units.

Kamenetz wrote to Gov. Larry Ho­gan on Tues­day ask­ing for his sup­port in seek­ing the waiver. Ho­gan ap­points the mem­bers of the In­ter­a­gency Com­mit­tee on School Con­struc­tion.

A Ho­gan spokesman, Doug Mayer, said the In­ter­a­gency Com­mit­tee, or IAC, is an in­de­pen­dent board, but the gover­nor sup­ports the county ex­ec­u­tive’s re­quest and hopes com­mit­tee mem­bers ap­prove it.

“While the county ex­ec­u­tive’s so-called plan doesn’t come close to pro­vid­ing the im­me­di­ate re­lief for our suf­fer­ing stu­dents sought by the gover­nor and the comptroller, in this case, some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing,” Mayer said.

The county has closed 37 schools that are not air-con­di­tioned on four days this school year be­cause of hot weather, frus­trat­ing stu­dents and par­ents.

The county is re­quest­ing a waiver of the reg­u­la­tion that blocks school sys­tems from get­ting state money for projects that are put out to bid be­fore they are ap­proved.

Es­sen­tially, the county is ask­ing the state Depart­ment of Gen­eral Ser­vices to re­view the de­sign of the12 projects be­fore they are ap­proved, and to al­low the county to put the projects out to bid.

Joan T. Schae­fer, act­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the IAC, said it does not rou­tinely grant such waivers, out of con­cern for set­ting a prece­dent.

Schae­fer said the com­mit­tee vote “could go ei­ther way.” She said ap­proval would not com­mit state of­fi­cials to fund the 12 cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing in­stal­la­tion projects.

David Lever, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the IAC, said de­sign­ing cen­tral air-sys­tems for schools is com­plex and time-con­sum­ing. A typ­i­cal in­stal­la­tion costs $6 mil­lion for an ele­men­tary school and $10 mil­lion for a high school.

If ap­proved, he said, the waiver would be un­usual, “but it is not un­rea­son­able,” given the ef­fect the lack of air con­di­tion­ing has on stu­dents.

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Ma­rine Maj. Chris Paes hugs his chil­dren, Ja­cob, 6, back to cam­era, and Eli­jah, 9. Paes dressed as a knight at Medieval Times in Hanover to sur­prise the boys on his re­turn from a seven-month de­ploy­ment in Iraq.

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