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Baltimore County speeds up plans to install AC

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Posted at 7:55 PM, May 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-19 19:55:34-04

Right now, 44 school buildings in Baltimore County don't have air conditioning.  Students say the sweltering classrooms are hard to concentrate in, and the heat makes them physically sick.       

County officials tell ABC 2 News they're working to fix that, and announced plans to speed up the installation of central air conditioning.

"It will allow us to make sure that every remaining elementary and middle school classroom is air conditioned by the start of the school year in 2017,” said Baltimore County Executive, Kevin Kamenetz.  “The high schools are larger and that will take us till 2018, but we're doing the job right in the first place and not wasting money on temporary window units."

Last week, the State Board of Public Works, headed by Governor Larry Hogan, voted to hold back school construction money unless window AC units are put into every classroom by next year.

"It's completely inexcusable and absolutely unacceptable,” said Hogan.  "I'm going to withhold $10-million from Baltimore County's request."

A move that may have prompted the county to step up the pace.          

However, Kamenetz calls it bullying, and says he has no intention of following Hogan's demand.

"While it sounds, you know, easy that we somehow could get a U-Haul truck and drive to Home Depot and just plug in these units, really doesn't recognize the fact that under state procurement law we have to bid those types of things out, that would take at least a year and a half," Kamenetz said.

He thinks window units are a wasteful, quick fix.  So Kamenetz tells ABC 2 News the county will cover the cost up-front to put central air into every school, but he expects the state to pay back its share to the tune of $166.4-million.           

Right now it's not clear if the state will release any money.  But Comptroller Peter Franchot says the accelerated timeline is a step in the right direction.

"The details need to be looked at and verified, and the commitment has to be very explicit and there can't be any lose ends,” he said.  “Because over six years I’ve had a dozen plans, statements, fluctuating number of classrooms, fluctuating number of schools, moving target here, moving target there, promises made, promises broken."

Baltimore County is one of the only school districts in the entire state that still has buildings without air conditioning.         

Under the current plan, all elementary and middle schools will be upgraded to central air in 2017.  However, that does not include about ten middle and high schools that either still need funding, or are slated to be rebuilt or renovated.        

We reached out to Governor Hogan, and he says the lack of AC is still a major problem.  Saying in part "It's nice to see the County Executive finally taking this issue seriously."  Hogan also questions how there can suddenly be such rapid progress getting all of the classrooms up to date.

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