- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Some Baltimore area schoolchildren, barely back in the classroom after COVID-19 shutdowns, were stuck at home again this week because of an even older malady: lack of air conditioning.

Although temperatures hovered around the seasonal norm, air conditioning systems were either broken or unable to pump cooler air through classrooms. As a result, more students were thrust into a virtual learning world.

Baltimore shut 30 schools and sent students home around 10:30 a.m. Monday, the public school system said. On Tuesday, 26 schools were closed and another seven had air conditioning units under repair.

Spokespeople for the Baltimore City Public Schools did not return repeated phone calls to discuss the issue.

In surrounding Baltimore County, eight schools were closed on Monday and two on Tuesday, spokesman Charles Herndon said. Two other schools closed Monday because they lost power altogether, Mr. Herndon said.

Since resuming in-person classes in late March, Baltimore County schools have become split about evenly between classroom and virtual attendance, Mr. Herndon said. Consequently, this week’s closings affected only 600 to 700 of the system’s roughly 112,000 students.

Temperatures in Baltimore on Monday and Tuesday hit 87 degrees with 67% humidity, 2 degrees above average for June, according to AccuWeather, and were a bit higher Wednesday.

That could spell trouble for the 177 schools in the city’s public school system, which is already struggling with air conditioning issues.

A February report said 24 city schools lacked air conditioning and a lack of heating was an even bigger problem. Neither problem would be solved soon, the report said.

“The district’s buildings overall are the oldest of any school district in the state, and numerous buildings need significant system upgrades or complete replacement,” the report said. “City Schools does not have sufficient funds to address these needs or even to perform necessary basic and preventative maintenance with the frequency recommended under industry standards.”

In 2016, Maryland officials withheld $5 million in funding to Baltimore City schools because of inadequate air conditioning work. A plan was drawn up to install window units and some central systems at a cost of $29.7 million the following year.

That proved wildly optimistic. Subsequent examinations showed that bringing electrical systems up to grade would cost $20,000 to $30,000 per classroom. “These costs raise the overall expense of the project to such an extent that completion by 2022-23 is no longer possible given available funds,” officials said.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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