Thursday, May 12, 2016

When School ACs Trump Education

Even education isn't above the fray when it comes to testosterone laden fights between powerful men; so it is that air conditioning (or its absence) has turned into a big and protracted school yard brawl between County Executive Kamenetz and State Comptroller Franchot which threatens to get entirely out of hand with yesterday's announcement that the State would withhold funds from the County and the City schools to force action. How politically silly this is has been adequately commented by the Baltimore SUN in yesterday's editorial.
this can't be the solution
As an architect and building designer, one has to add, that from a design and technical perspective, the issue is no less silly. Lining parents up around the issue of sweating kids in classrooms has been TV effective, but asking for quick fixes like window AC is neither environmental nor economically efficient.

It is way more practical to let kids go home early when room temps become unbearable, than to disrupt a long-range school construction plan that would equip all County schools with central AC within the next three years by stuffing some window AC's under a window sash as Franchot may imagine it.
"I believe it's also probably illegal for the Board of Public Works to decide to cram down its priority on the local planning system." (State Treasurer Nancy Kopp)
The problem, of course is, the schools don't have operable sashes anymore that can simply be lifted for an AC unit to be shoved in. And the fact that they don't have those, is one of the reasons it is so damn hot in the first place. Some of my kids went to a highschool that is one of those flat roof toaster boxes with yellowed plastic fixed windows and a tiny slot at the bottom that was operable, flipping out in "awning" fashion, ensuring that hot air remained trapped inside. Yes, it got hot in there, and yes, this isn't good for education and thinking in general. Some City schools are similar, many others are more traditional multi-story buildings designed to stay cool in the traditional passive way. Thanks to the urban heat island effect and ever hotter summers, they will need AC as well.

So the County's and City's plans to overhaul the schools, give them decent operable windows and a central AC system, is a good one and the administrations should stick with it until the last County school of the remaining 48 schools is done in three years. (Baltimore City has still 76 schools without AC).
Dallas Danz, County School Superintendent

Diverting funds to buy window AC units, upgrade the electric circuits to support the extra load, cut out openings in facades to fit the portables in, install support brackets, do lousy seals around the units and thus compromise insulation and security is just not an environmentally friendly approach or smart use of funds. Those portable cause condensate to drool over the facades and create disturbing noise inside the class-room. In short, all that would be sheer folly.
 "it would have been a more productive use of the board's energy to spend time identifying ways to increase funding for our public schools and to support student achievement" (Anthony McCarthy on behalf of Rawlings Blake)
The brawl has already one prominent victim: Following the contentious meeting of the Board of Public Works, Dr. David Lever resigned from the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC). 
Lever described in his resignation letter how deferral to local boards of education in formulating capital programs had been a core tenet of the school construction program — and one that he now sees as threatened, he wrote in a poignant letter. 
Richard Hall, Secretary of Planning under Governor O'Malley commented:
[I have] "known David Lever for years, this is pitiful and an example of folks trying to run state government Trump-style. Lever is a true professional and it is very clear how bad things are if he had to resign and write a letter like that."
If adults want to debate the proper way of spending school funds, they should debate the wisdom of buying a laptop for each kid for a total of $300 million as County Superintendent Dallas Danz is set to. The computers will likely enrich the computer industry much more than the students, knowing that they are obsolete the day they are distributed. In City and County better inclusion of communities in the school rehabilitation and construction plans would also be desirable, so they don't have to go into combative mode as in the case of Mays Chapel where the County denuded a lovely open space for a new school.
Rally for Community Schools

City and County have each about a billion bucks in their 10 year school construction plans. Those expenditures work best if the rehabbed or new schools are properly embedded into their community. School funds must be used to leverage improvements in surrounding areas for safe access to the schools, rehabilitation of boarded up buildings and the creation of well designed shared open spaces that can be used by the school and the community. The goal should be that every school becomes truly a community school.

Those topics would be worthwhile discussing. Kids, education and communities would benefit.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related: Schools as Place-makers

Older buildings like City Public School #25 were never designed to have AC and work better in heat
than  those flat roof  one story County Schools from the sixties and seventies without proper ventilation