Metropolis School of San Francisco struggles to warmth lecture rooms

The City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Tuesday to approve funds for much-needed repairs to heating systems on multiple campuses. The meeting came after months – and some say years – of complaints from students, faculty and staff about overly cool classrooms caused by aging or broken heating systems.

Alan Wong, chairman of the board, said the current classroom conditions are unacceptable. He noted that as early as the winter of 2021, he had received emails from faculty, staff and students about heating issues, which he forwarded to college administration. But this winter, a new barrage of news about the problem arrived.

“Cold classrooms are not conducive to learning and need to be fixed as soon as possible,” he said. “The primary goal of the emergency meeting for me [was] to pressure our administration to respond to our students and urgently fix these issues and not handle it as usual. As I said several times during the meeting, as long as our students don’t get heat, the heat should be on us.”

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Before the meeting, he had some trainers take him on a tour to one of the affected campuses where the meeting was taking place to experience the cold for himself.A professor teaches wearing a mask, parka and gloves.

Malaika Finkelstein, who works on the complaints team for AFT2121, the college’s faculty union, said she started hearing about ongoing heating problems in buildings on two of the campuses last fall, while the campus where she teaches has been without working ones for years heat is. An unusually cold winter in California has brought the issue to the fore, and the union has posted updates to a faculty blog documenting the low classroom temperatures.

Finkelstein, who is also an instructor for the college’s programs and services for students with disabilities, said the temperature in her classroom was mostly in the low 50s, but other rooms were worse, dipping into the 40s, especially during the summer night classes She has noticed that students in her class have left because of the cold, and she has heard that some students in other classes have canceled their classes altogether. Faculty members began putting up signs on their classroom doors keeping a log of class temperatures to urge administrators to address the issue.

“I had a student last week who literally asked me why nobody cares,” Finkelstein said. “That was heartbreaking. Being a community college student is challenging…you juggle work hours and childcare schedules and arrange your life so that you can go to school. And doing all that when it feels like the college, the administration, isn’t on your side, why would anyone bother?”

The college provided space heaters to heat the classrooms, but only one can be used per classroom to avoid overloading the college’s electrical systems, Wong said.

Disposable hand warmer packets were also distributed to faculty members on Finkelstein’s campus, but they didn’t do much good, she said.

“I had a package that contained two hand warmers,” she said. “What am I supposed to do, pass it around for each student to hold for a minute?”

She believes the cold is affecting students’ ability to learn.

“You walk into the classroom and your hands start to hurt and it’s hard to pick up a pen,” she said. “Sometimes people have a hard time concentrating on a bad day. People can’t just sit still. It’s hard to sit still. And that’s coming from the COVID shutdown. Some of my students are here in person for the first time since COVID and I cannot create an environment for them that will make them want to keep coming back.”

The meeting

Old boilers and leaky underground steam pipes are to blame for the poor heating, according to Wong. During Tuesday’s meeting, board members approved $2.6 million for boiler replacements and other repairs on affected campuses, though boiler replacements will not be complete until this summer, the release said. City College administration also plans to hire 25 new facilities staff to improve campus maintenance. The board also advised administrators to expedite possible short-term solutions, e.g. These include moving classes to heated buildings, fixing electrical issues that prevent the use of more space heaters, and using portable power generators. The administrators were also asked to report back to the board at the next general meeting.

Wong pointed out that City College currently only has 11 employees at the facility, so he believes new hires will make a big difference in the long run. He said he was pleased with the long-term solutions initiated at the meeting, but the short-term solutions must be a top priority “because our students are cold now.”

Finkelstein left the meeting with similar feelings.

Board members listened to the reports from students, faculty and staff and were outraged on her behalf, she said. And the news of new funds for repairs and additional staff was “great, but it’s not getting us anywhere at the moment.” She also felt some issues weren’t being addressed. For example, she worries that some courses could be canceled if students drop out because of the cold.

Chancellor David Martin wrote in an email to faculty, staff and students ahead of the meeting that several contractors came to look at the college’s heating infrastructure when problems arose last fall and none saw “immediate solutions to the existing heating equipment.” based on its current status.” The college solicited bids from contractors for several heating projects in December, and that process is in its final stages, he added. He pledged to give priority to “ongoing funding for major site improvement projects”; Hire new people, including civil engineers and utility workers; and keep faculty and staff informed of progress.

“Going forward, we are committed to ensuring our college facilities are well maintained by proactively investing money in delayed maintenance,” wrote Martin. “This is imperative to provide our students and staff with a comfortable and safe environment, free from heating issues and other issues.”

A common fight

City College’s heating problems, while perhaps a serious case, mirror those of other colleges across the state and country that are plagued by costly, long-delayed repairs while trying to preserve and renovate old facilities. The Bronx Community College, for example, lost heat for over a month in the fall of 2022 due to aging boilers, prompting a similar outcry on campus. A March letter from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan California government agency that advises lawmakers on policy matters, found that California’s community college system has about $700 million worth of deferred maintenance, according to the latest estimates. The California State University system has $6.5 billion and the University of California system has $7.3 billion in deferred maintenance costs.

Lisa Berglund, director of research administration and management at EAB, an education consultancy, said crises like this are common in colleges and universities, in part because a “large percentage” of campus buildings were built in the 1960s and ’70s and construction today is beginning to show signs of aging to show.

“It’s common for a university to have a fairly large backlog of deferred maintenance, and it’s a question of how cabinets and campus leaders prioritize funding to address this, whether the university is able to keep track of it, or whether the Things kind of got into a little bigger crisis,” she said. Her general advice to university leaders is to “shift the balance from more reactive maintenance to more preventive maintenance.”

Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said community colleges have particular difficulty responding to maintenance issues because they are underfunded and tend to have leaner budgets. Campus leaders are also often keen to allocate scarce funds to spending that feels more “impactful,” such as: B. Academic programs or student services and support.

“You may kick the can in the street right now, but it will surely haunt you again later,” in the form of facility emergencies and unforeseen expenses, she said. “I think every college president has had to make that decision for one reason or another.”

More philanthropy dollars and state and federal funding for community college maintenance costs would help address and prevent these problems, she added.

Community college students “deserve to have good facilities,” she said. “You deserve an updated technology. They deserve secure facilities.”

Berglund said maintenance work is more important than ever as students return to campus after the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and it won’t be the last,” she said. “Universities are beginning to understand that institutions influence many parts of student life, student success and university-wide success, and it’s important to invest in that…Hopefully we can invest in the future so that everyone can have a better experience on campus and we do.” can see that our students are thriving and comfortable in the classroom.”

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