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A 1980s Commodore PC has controlled this school district’s A/C for 30 years
The Grand Rapids Public School district might want to upgrade.
The Amiga 2000 was released by Commodore in early 1987 and discontinued in 1991, but in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of these old machines has been chugging along steadily with a heavy load to carry. The Grand Rapids School District counts on an Amiga computer to run the heat and air conditioning of its schools.
19 schools in the region currently count on the nearly 30-year-old machine, which has been running tirelessly, day and night, since first being installed in the 1980s.
The Amiga personal computers built by Commodore in the ’80s are often regarded as ahead of their time, full of then-unusual features that were difficult to market at the time. It’s one of those features, the 1200-bit modem and a wireless radio signal, that makes it possible for the ancient hardware to communicate with the district’s schools.
Though the radio signal allows the Amiga to get status checks, toggle boilers, fans, and the like in a matter of seconds, it also communicates at the same frequency as the walkie-talkies used by the maintenance department. This creates occasional interference and requires the maintenance crew to shut off their radios for up to 15 minutes at a time.
It was expected the outdated system would be replaced in 2011 when voters passed a “Warm Safe and Dry” bond to release money to the district schools for upkeep and maintenance purposes. Because the computer was still functioning just fine, it didn’t make the list of projects. Instead, the money was spent replacing boilers and roofs and removing asbestos.
Now, nearly three decades after its installation, the school district is ready to replace it completely instead of replacing broken functions with parts purchased on eBay. A new system will cost up to $2 million, and will be installed if voters pass a $175 million bond for school spending.
Sad as it may be to see the old piece of machinery finally retired, it should be a relief to the students, faculty, and administration who count on it running properly every day.
AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.