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Maryland schools close 2 hours early because of ‘overworked’ air conditioners

September 6, 2018

Prince George’s County Public Schools dismissed all students two hours early, and 10 public schools in Baltimore County canceled classes as temperatures soared into the 90s on Wednesday and officials said air conditioning systems were “overworked.”

“We have 208 schools total, and 49 of those schools had some trouble with A/C,” said John White, a spokesman for Prince George’s County schools.

Because the 49 schools are scattered throughout the county, administrators shortened every student’s day to coordinate transportation, Mr. White said.

Twelve of the affected schools need new compressors or chillers, and maintenance crews can’t finish repairs until the new parts arrive, said county schools spokeswoman Raven Hill.

Monica Goldson, interim chief executive of Prince George’s County schools, said in an announcement that parents can expect normal schedules Thursday.

Ms. Hill noted that many school buildings are 45 years old and their old HVAC systems get “stressed” by excessive heat. The schools’ A/C systems also don’t cool nonclassroom areas like hallways and gymnasiums. Other schools systems in the D.C. region said their air conditioners cool those areas.

D.C. officials said all city public schools have functioning air conditioning and no closures or early dismissals were anticipated. A spokeswoman for D.C. Public Charter Schools said she did have information about A/C immediately available.

Fairfax and Arlington counties reported no air conditioning problems in their schools.

Helen Lloyd, spokeswoman for Alexandria public schools, said Wednesday that “we’re not at the point” to cancel classes.

“We did have some outages over the weekend caused by a traffic accident,” Ms. Lloyd said, adding that four schools lost power due Tuesday’s accident on King Street.

City schools administrators had to shuffle some students to other classrooms when their A/C units failed this week, she added.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County officials closed Brookhaven Elementary School two hours early on Tuesday after its A/C system failed.

Montgomery County schools spokesman Derek Turner said Wednesday that many schools are “struggling” with 20-year-old HVAC systems that get “overworked” in heat waves.

“This is a tough time for a lot of school systems,” Mr. Turner said. “We’re lucky to have both funding and staffing and contractors to resolve these issues quickly.”

“I’m not sure others are as lucky,” he added.

Temperatures topped 90 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, with “feels like” temperatures of more than 100 degrees. The National Weather Service said the heat wave is expected to break Friday after a cold front moves in Thursday evening.

The A/C issue boiled over at a Wednesday meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works, where board members who have highlighted the problem for years spent much of the meeting discussing it, The Associated Press reported.

Comptroller Peter Franchot and Gov. Larry Hogan, two of three board members, accused leading lawmakers of playing politics and failing to resolve an issue they say has affected more than 44,000 students this week.

The issue has been as hot as the weather in Annapolis. The General Assembly voted this year to strip the board’s authority over school construction funding and put it in the hands of a commission. Mr. Hogan vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overrode his veto.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat who is the third board member, said progress has been made in addressing school infrastructure improvements.

She said a commission now charged with making school construction decisions will take the issue “off of the political stage.”

The same heat wave affecting Maryland also hit hard nationwide, shuttering schools from Massachusetts to Ohio. In Boston two dozen schools sent students home Wednesday after the 98 degree temperatures broke a 1953 record for the month and the buildings’ A/C systems failed, a WRAL TV affiliate reported.

Dozens of schools in Cleveland and Connecticut closed early Wednesday for the same reason, according to ABC 5 Cleveland and WTNH/WCTX TV.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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