Time to defrost

May 23, 2002, midnight | By Stephen Wertheim | 18 years, 8 months ago

Blazers needn't feel an Arctic chill

"Welcome to the fridge!" declares social studies teacher James Mogge as he beckons his morning students into class during which Mogge, shivering before a map of World War I's Western Front, likens the sub-zero room to CostCo's frozen food department.

Blair's air conditioning system finally, miraculously, seems to be working. And then some. But, Business Manager Anne Alban explains, the air conditioning isn't even on. Rather, during the week of Apr 22 and continuing for a month (so far), the plain old air vents drew in morning air whose temperature, she says, sometimes dipped into the upper 30s.

Alban, who can't "just turn a switch" to relieve the chill, deserves no blame; the county controls Blair's airflow from miles away. Had Blair been in control instead of MCPS, Alban says the heat would have been on and Mogge's fridge no more.

Following weeks in which students entered a Blair that made them think they were traversing the Amazon jungle and, soon after, huddling in an Alaskan ice cave, MCPS should make a move of unprecedented boldness: to give its schools control over their own heating and air conditioning.

Airflow insanity can be blown away for good. All that's needed is a building capable of switching between heating and air conditioning for itself, averting that always-uncomfortable week (this year, weeks) during seasonal changes that leave MCPS scrambling to replace heat with AC, or AC with heat, because the two cannot run simultaneously within county schools under the centralized system.

The system's main purpose, according to Sean Gallagher, assistant director of the MCPS Department of Facilities Management, is to provide comfort--just what social studies teacher Anne Manuel sought as she bundled a scarf around her neck.

In fact, Manuel's frigid room contributed to her sinus infection, she says while dipping nasal decongestant tea into hot water. "I had such a chill," she recalls. "I wanted to flee." And flee she did, relocating an afternoon class to a computer lab after previous classes were distracted and "constantly complaining" of the cold.

The other reason for centralization, Gallagher says, is to save energy. But energy conservation--though certainly desirable--shouldn't mean students sweat one week and freeze the next. Gallagher describes MCPS as a "nationally recognized leader in energy efficiency," but true energy efficiency entails ingenuity, not the shortchanging of staff and students.

Though the county doesn't trust schools to meet energy requirements without centralization, Alban knows Blair could handle the task. And according to Building Services Manager James Brown, Blair already has the technical know-how. "We have the knowledge and the capability," he says, "but we don't have the authority."

MCPS simply must realize that a comfortable environment is a necessity for staff and students to function. Blair's air should be Blair's business.

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Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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