When:  Monday, October 28, at 6.30-8pm 

 Where: Catonsville High School  

BCPS will host a community meeting to address capacity expansion and modernization of schools in the southwest and central areas of Baltimore County. The meetings are a follow up to several community meetings held last spring to examine the issues in both areas. From those spring meetings, proposals emerged that would address the need for additional seats in both the southwest and central areas. At the upcoming meetings, participants will hear presentations from school system staff and from the GWWO/Architects firm that will address scenarios for enrollment relief and review community and staff input from last spring and summer. 


There is some very positive news bubbling up for Westowne. Right now there is a draft proposal, subject to change and funding, from BCPS that includes a solution for Westowne and its dysfunctional building. BCPS’s FY 2015 capital improvement project aims to replace Catonsville’s non-ac school buildings and build enough extra capacity for overcrowded schools. The proposal is ambitious and comprehensive and we hope that the framework for the proposal sees fruition. A final version of the proposal should be available in October and November.

Here is a link to BCPS website where updates on these proposals will be posted: http://www.bcps.org/construction/southwest


We’ve been told that BCPS has no plans to make the necessary electrical upgrades to install air conditioning into our building. Ok, thanks for telling us four decades after the fact. In the meantime, let’s talk about the second problem with our building: air ventilation.

Often people refer to our building as being “old,” but really that is a misnomer. Our building is sick, dysfunctional and inoperable. Those aren’t the same things as being old. Our building doesn’t work on a basic level. It is unable to pull in new air and vent out old air. The ceiling vents in the gym don’t open, there is no vent system in the cafe and the vent units in the classroom are not sufficient for the space and the amount of thermal energy being produced by our overcrowded classes. 

We understand that we can’t have air conditioning. But how about some new air? Here’s our simple, basic, reasonable request for an inhabitable building: 

* Working vents in the gym and cafe
* Exterior shade awnings on the fifth grade wing
* Repairs to broken black-out curtains 
* Air vent units that pull enough air into the classroom to achieve healthy air quality levels. 
*Early dismissal policy based on INDOOR temperatures above 90 degrees heat index.

Here’s a link to tonight’s BCPS school board meeting. A Westowne parent presented this information and hopefully the board is listening. (The video is offline now but it should return by tomorrow).


Westowne Family: Operation Squeaky Wheel Needs You to Speak at the School Board Meeting (9/10, 7pm)

Did you think Back to School Night was torturously hot? Did you know that last week the classrooms reached 100 degrees heat index (89 degrees heat plus 70% humidity)? Did you know that more hot days are on their way and that the school doesn’t have working vents in the gym or cafeteria and inadequate ventilator units in the classrooms? 

Please attend BCPS school board meeting tomorrow (9/10) and tell the board that this is an emergency. Our building is sick and needs a doctor. Our building needs basic repairs in order to be inhabitable. 

What: BCPS monthly school board meeting

Where: BCPS headquarters, Greenwood Campus, 6901 Charles St, Towson

When: Tuesday, September 10, 7pm


At the end of June, I received a certified letter from Pradeep Dixit, executive director of BCPS physical facilities department. The letter summarized the results of their assessment of Westowne’s building systems and answered some of the questions I had asked regarding air conditioning prioritization.

When we started our letter-writing campaign, we were told by BCPS that they use a metric called CAGE (cost, age, geography and enrollment) to determine which schools get air conditioning and when. Through our Southwest Area advisor and BCPS government liaison, I had asked what is Westowne’s CAGE score. Here is their response: 

Please be aware that Baltimore County Public Schools is committed to providing a climate controlled environment in every school in as timely a manner as possible. To that end, please know that there is no “scoring” system used to evaluate and prioritize schools regarding the installation of air conditioning.

This answer seems to negate the previous answer. If you do not use a scoring system, like CAGE, then what system do you use? Has the CAGE policy been abandoned? But the letter goes on to say the following:

The Department of Physical Facilities utilizes a disciplined and methodical approach which includes the continual evaluation and prioritization regarding the needs of our schools, and in particular the need to provide air conditioning. We are using a variety of funding options to address the identified needs including the state’s Aging School Program, Energy Performance Contracting, as well as funding from the county that is directed specifically to air conditioning.

 This paragraph above references the Aging Schools Fund, which is an alternative funding source for school construction projects. Westowne would qualify for these funds because of our FARM (free and reduced meals) percentage. In our lobbying efforts we have asked to apply for these funds in an effort to ease the financial burden on the county for our air conditioning upgrade. I can’t tell what their answer means. But there is more:

As a result of this process of evaluation and prioritization, Westowne Elementary was part of our submission for the FY-14 capital budget under planning for renovation. Additionally, Johnson Controls conducted an energy audit of Westowne Elementary and has recommended energy conservation projects that are scheduled to be completed over the next 12 to 15 months. These projects include lighting retrofit, energy management system enhancements, and improved pipe insulation.

This sounds great. Wonder what energy management system enhancements are? Does an energy audit also look at ventilation and climate control? Without air conditioning, we don’t use very much energy so I don’t see how we could conserve any more.

The following is a summary of their assessment of our building’s temperatures. Remember the thermostats they installed in the classrooms? The workers who entered the classrooms with temperature probes? This is what they found:

Due to concerns about the potential for elevated temperatures in Westowne Elementary, a study was conducted during the final five weeks of this past school year to assess thermal conditions in the building. The study was conducted by placing temperature/relative humidity data logging monitors in selected classrooms during the study period. The data collected was evaluated in relation to outside conditions. In summary, the highest measured temperature in the school was 85 degrees (on May 30 and May 31) and the temperature in the school was normally below the outside air temperature during the school day (Table 1). The exception to this was when the unit ventilator in classroom 25 had been turned off by the teacher. This was noted by staff on several site visits.


Relative humidity was also monitored during the study. The highest relative humidity levels in the building occurred when temperatures were between 68 degrees F and 78 degrees F. The relative humidity reached a peak of 82% on June 10 in room 25; this resulted in a heat index of 81 degrees F (Table 2).

The temperature and relative humidity data was used to calculate heat index during peak temperature periods. The peak heat index inside of the building were consistently lower than the outside heat indexes. The highest calculated outside heat index was 88 degrees F (on May 30). The highest calculated inside heat index was 87 degrees F (on May 30) in room 21 (Table 3).


So without directly saying it, they do have some fairly disturbing findings: 88% humidity and 85 degree F temperatures. Humidity levels in the 80s create serious air quality issues, such as mold growth. I find their temperature readings to be on the low side and the statement that our school building never exceeded outside temperatures is simply false. I was there on a day that was beautiful outside and stifling inside. And then there are the days that it rains and you can’t open the windows and all those heat-generating bodies just stew all day long. I also have anecdotal evidence that the temperatures the workers measured did not correlate with the temperatures that the teachers measured at the same time in the same location. It is understandable that there might be some variations in temperature readings but we are confident in the accuracy of our temperature data. If they want to fight about it, we are prepared to do so. But I digress; the letter continues:     

In evaluating the data and the school, there are several features of the building which assist in keeping the building temperature in check. These include the low-E glass in the windows which were installed in 2003 – low-e glass reflects most of the infrared solar energy which is responsible for the radiant heating effect from direct sunlight; the use of existing blinds to further reduce the radiant heat load; and the use of the unit ventilator in each classroom, which provides outside air ventilation to improve indoor air quality, dissipates humidity generated in the room, and provides continuous air movement in the classroom.

The letter goes on to say they will continue to monitor the situation…. The paragraph above is my favorite: it basically says that you can adequately cool a building filled with 600 plus heat-generating bodies without air conditioning. And the itty bitty fan units in the ventilators have magical powers that whisk away humidity without compressor coil technology. Why bother with air conditioning at all if all you need is a 60-year-old fan? I thought when they started this assessment that they would help us fix our building not concoct a fantasy. I’ll post their table data next to our data in my next post.   



Operation Squeaky Wheel has made great progress and it is thanks to the Westowne family and friends. Your letters, phone calls, petition comments, appearance at board meetings, participation in ‘The Heat Is Up’ video — all of these efforts have put Westowne on the priority list.

Yesterday we met with our councilman, Tom Quirk, and board of education member, Michael Bowler. We walked through the school building, went into classrooms, and they felt first-hand how warm and stuffy those rooms can get. And yesterday was not a hot or humid day. We were assured by them that everyone is working on helping Westowne and from the looks on their faces I felt that this was sincere and genuine not just an empty promise.

Here’s the problem, according to a Westowne grandparent who generously donated his time to accompany us as a technical advocate, there are major aspects of the building that are unfixable. The reason why the building is so hot in the winter is because the steam valves have probably failed. But the valves can’t be easily replaced without running the risk of breaking pipes, which are next to impossible to replace in a building like ours. The units in the classrooms are only designed to heat and vent a building in winter not to cool and vent a building in summer. The fans don’t move enough air to do much good. Again, replacing these units is not the answer as it wouldn’t fix more systemic problems. Do you see what I’m getting at? In many ways Westowne is not fixable.

Instead of shrugging their shoulders and wishing us luck, we are still working with the councilman and the board to find interim and long-term solutions. We are asking for the following short-term solutions:

* ceiling fans in the classrooms

* shade awnings on the fifth and third grade wings

* repair broken curtains so that they cover the entire window

* window fans in the cafeteria

* continued monitoring and adjusting the vent system so that the parts that do work can work

* early dismissal policy for non-air conditioned schools based on interior temperatures.

We appeared at the Board of Education meeting last night and spoke about these issues. We will continue to appear at the board meetings over the summer on these same topics. And hopefully by fall 2013, we will find a Westowne with some modest but immediate heat-management solutions and some concrete evidence that the long-term proposals have been become activated plans.

Here are the summer board meeting dates:

July 9, 7pm

August 6, 7pm

August 20, 6.3-pm, FY15 Capital Budget Work Session.


Our end of May heat wave brought summer temps to our building and it brought the press too. This week we were featured on ABC 2 local news at 5pm and at 11pm as well as the teaser slot for our first walk-out. Fox News Baltimore is featuring our The Heat Is Up video on their website and the Catonsville Times covered our second walk out. BCPS are you listening? Because everyone else is.