When Julie Sugar starred in a campaign commercial for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz last year that said he “installed new air conditioning” at Ridgely Middle School, the former PTA president was certain her children’s school would be fitted with the cooling system sooner rather than later.
Turns out Sugar, and scores of other frustrated parents at Ridgely Middle School, will have to wait until mid-September until the Blue Ribbon school will be cooled off.
And, with warmer months quickly approaching, they’re not too happy about it.
“Over the past three years, we’ve experienced days where the heat index in classrooms was 113 degrees. It’s unbearable,” Sugar said. “We are confused about what is causing the delay.”
The Baltimore County Public Schools system began collecting bids for the project in the fall, and approved a contractor at a January 2011 school board meeting.
But now, parents are accusing the school system of delaying the process.
The Ridgely Middle School PTA reached out to Principal Susan Evans for a scheduling update earlier this week and were told on Tuesday that air conditioning units would be installed in the fall.
Parents said they were told on two earlier occasions—at sixth grade orientation night and a back-to-school night—that the units would be installed at some point this spring.
“Not many parents are aware of this yet, because we just found out ourselves. But I can promise you that it will not be taken lightly,” said Magan D. Nadwodny, current Ridgley Middle PTA president. “Parents were already up in arms before this most recent delay and they have every right to be. The lives of their children are in jeopardy when they are exposed to these conditions, and BCPS should be held accountable before anything detrimental happens to another student.”
Funding for the air conditioning system totals nearly $1 million, which was approved in July 2010 after months of intense lobbying by Kamenetz. Parents praised Kamenetz for fighting for the air conditioning, and his efforts were featured prominently throughout his campaign for county executive last year.
County schools spokesman Charles Herndon said the new air conditioning system will be in place by the new school year. He said the school system has followed all procurement laws and procedures, which have made it difficult to pinpoint an exact date.
“By the time it goes to bid, it’s difficult if not impossible to guarantee any spring completion date," Herndon said. "But we assume that the system will be operable by the start of the school year. That’s the best assumption that we’re operating under.”
Herndon added: “The project was bid as quickly as possible given the procurement laws and procedures that were in place and we’re proceeding as quickly as we can.”
Calls to Ridgely Middle’s administrative office seeking comment were not returned. However, Principal Susan Evans sent the following e-mail to parents earlier this week:
“Good News!!! Air conditioning construction is about to begin. More Good News!!! The work that is being done now will not affect us in the building during this school year. Most of the work that needs to occur in the building will take place during the summer.
“This means teachers do not have to leave the building early or be displaced from their rooms. The outside work that you will see occur now is between the tennis courts and the gym lobby entrance and along with the side road that is next to the ramp which is next to the tech ed wing.
“Eventually, during this school year, the gym lobby entrance doors will be closed during a part of the construction process. More information will be provided as available. Have a great day!”
Both Sugar and Nadwodny spoke of students suffering from overheating in classrooms at the end of the school year. At least one student had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance because of heat exhaustion, they said. Other students have reportedly passed out or fainted because of the heat.
“Most classrooms were reaching temperatures of 90 degrees or higher before 8 a.m. And many of the readings on average days exceeded 100 degrees,” Nadwodny said.
Sugar’s youngest child was in seventh grade when a renovation took place at Ridgely Middle School three years ago. She balked at the renovation, which added only a few windows that could be opened by only a few inches.
“It’s my understanding that there was more air flow with new windows, given the fact that the old ones were inoperable and couldn’t even be opened. Nevertheless, there was continued concern about the temperatures inside the school,” Herndon said. “We’ve been as responsive as we can be."
Herndon said the county school system has done its best to address facility upgrades at all of its 172 schools.
"Parents have been very forthright in their concerns,” he said.
Sugar’s children have gone on to Loch Raven High School, but she still feels strongly about the “injustice” students are subjected to at Ridgely.
“It’s hard to realize unless you’re there,” she said.
While students and teachers are subjected to overheated classrooms, the front office at Ridgely Middle is air-conditioned.
Kamenetz asked his staff to speak with school system representatives earlier this week regarding scheduling for the project, said Ellen Kobler, a Kamenetz spokeswoman.
“School system officials indicate that the project was bid as quickly as possible given procurement laws and procedures. The project will now proceed as quickly as the contractor can complete it,” Kobler wrote in an e-mail to Patch. “The project was scheduled to go to the board for approval early in 2011, making a spring completion date impossible. We are all looking forward to the happy day when the air conditioning is turned on for the first time."