Balto. Co. gets OK on school build­ings

State com­mis­sion waives rules to let work on air con­di­tion­ing go for­ward

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood and Erin Cox pwood@balt­ twit­

Plans by Bal­ti­more County to speed the in­stal­la­tion of air con­di­tion­ing at pub­lic schools got a boost from a key state panel on Thurs­day.

The state’s In­ter­a­gency Com­mis­sion on School Con­struc­tion voted unan­i­mously to award a waiver to the county that will keep the plan on track.

“We are pleased they have the con­fi­dence in our plan,” County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz said Thurs­day. “We can start the plan­ning process now.”

Thirty-six schools in Bal­ti­more County lack cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing. Of­fi­cials have can­celed classes four days this school year for ex­ces­sive heat.

Kamenetz, a Demo­crat, and Gov. Larry Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, have dif­fered over plans to in­stall air con­di­tion­ing. Stu­dents and par­ents have been frus­trated by hot class­rooms and can­celed classes.

The waiver al­lows Bal­ti­more County of­fi­cials to so­licit bids for in­stal­la­tion at the next 12 schools be­fore they re­ceive ap­proval from the state for the work. Those schools are: Franklin and Ken­wood high schools; Ar­bu­tus, Golden Ring, Mid­dle River and Stem­mers Run mid­dle schools; South­west Academy; and Bat­tle Grove, Charlesmont, Church Lane, Orems and Reis­ter­stown el­e­men­tary schools.

When the Board of Pub­lic Works re­leases state con­struc­tion fund­ing in Jan­uary, Kamenetz said, the county will be able to award con­tracts and get the work started.

County schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Dallas Dance said the com­mis­sion’s vote will al­low the county “to con­tinue work­ing dili­gently to pro­vide cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing in all of our schools as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Ho­gan sup­ported the waiver re­quest. But he said air-con­di­tion­ing plans in Bal­ti­more County and Bal­ti­more City are in­suf­fi­cient.

“We dole out hun­dreds and hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in school con­struc­tion money to the lo­cal gov­ern­ments,” he said, “and they seem to be very un­re­spon­sive to con­cerns about the wel­fare of some stu­dents.”

Ho­gan, who con­trols school con­struc­tion money as a mem­ber of the state Board of Pub­lic Works, wants Kamenetz to in­stall por­ta­ble air con­di­tion­ers while pur­su­ing a long-term fix.

Kamenetz says por­ta­ble air con­di­tion­ers would be a poor use of tax­payer money and would over­bur­den some schools’ elec­tri­cal sys­tems.

Ho­gan and Comptroller Peter Fran­chot, a Demo­crat on the Board of Pub­lic Works, with­held mil­lions of dol­lars in state school con­struc­tion money from Bal­ti­more County and Bal­ti­more City this year over air con­di­tion­ing.

With­out the waiver, the county would have had to ab­sorb mil­lions more dol­lars in cost, or the con­struc­tion time­line would have been pushed back.

Un­der Kamenetz’s plan, all but 12 schools are to have cen­tral air con­di­tion­ing by next fall.

The re­main­ing schools, in­clud­ing six with new build­ings, and four high schools sched­uled to un­dergo sig­nif­i­cant ren­o­va­tions, are to have it in 2018 or 2019.

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