Cold in the Classroom; Schools Need Repairs

There is a nearly $1 billion backlog of heating system repairs or replacements in the public school systems in the Maryland suburbs, according to an investigation by the News-4 I-Team.

School building records obtained by the I-Team from the public school systems in Montgomery county, Prince George’s county, Howard county and Frederick county show hundreds of school HVAC systems are aging and in need of replacement in the coming years.

In several cases, the I-Team found heating systems failed in some of those school districts during the winter months of 2015, forcing school closures or interruptions.

Other heating systems are expected to falter in the near future, unless replaced in the coming months.

At Valley Elementary School in Jefferson, in Frederick County, the I-Team found a boiler heating system dating back to the 1960s. Though still functional, the district said, it is line for replacement in about a year.

Frederick County Public Schools facilities services director Ray Barnes said the Valley Elementary boiler is one of a long list of HVAC repair needs in the district.

The district said its current HVAC repair or replacement list includes 25 different projects totaling $21 million.

The backlog of needed heating and cooling system replacements in Montgomery County approaches $180 million, the I-Team has learned.

The district is attempting $28 million in HVAC replacements in 2015 alone, including equipment replacement at Shady Grove Middle School and Watkins Mill High School.

Problems with school heating and cooling systems have been linked to other issues inside local school buildings.

A Montgomery County elementary school suffered mold problems linked to an HVAC system problem in 2013. A Takoma Park woman reports her children were briefly sickened in the incident, which has since been rectified.

Prince George’s County suffered several school closures in 2015 because of heating related problems, including at some of its newer school buildings, including Baden Elementary and Obama Elementary schools.

District chief operating officer Monica Goldson said, “We've had historically frigid temperatures within the past couple of weeks. Even in our newer buildings -- and those are new buildings -- the infrastructure wasn't able to handle the colder temperatures.”

Goldson said 10 percent of the district’s 200 buildings had heating-related issues this winter.

Goldson said, “That’s not uncommon in a system this large, with the extreme winter that we’ve had.”

Goldson and other local school district officials said they are lobbying state lawmakers for additional school building funding.

Goldson said, “(District workers) are working through the night to ensure when students arrive we make repairs, but in order to continue doing that we need the funding at the state level we’ve been requesting.”

A state budget official said his agency has proposed $290 million in capital improvement funding for public schools in 2015-2016, an increase from the prior year.

Contact Us