TECH

A Commodore Computer From The 1980s Is Still Heating Schools In Michigan

It's a Commodore Amiga. Really.

The maintenance supervisor for the Grand Rapids Public Schools system in Michigan remembers when the district purchased a Commodore Amiga computer in the 1980s. The bulky computer, which was discontinued in 1991, was used to control heating and cooling operations for the district's schools. 

Over 30 years later, supervisor Tim Hopkins said, the cash-strapped district is still using the same computer to control the temperature in more than a dozen schools.

“The system controls the start/stop of boilers, the start/stop of fans, pumps; [it] monitors space temperatures, and so on,” Hopkins told local outlet WOOD-TV. 

Now, the Grand Rapids district is hoping that if the community votes to approve a $175 million bond offering in November, it will finally be able to replace the antiquated computer.

"It’s a piece of gear that has been kind of forgotten about, and that’s why it needed to be brought up," Hopkins told The Huffington Post. "I can't imagine our security system or budget office would still be operating on something that’s 30 years old."

Hopkins told WOOD-TV that the computer could stop working at virtually any moment and that replacement parts are hard to find. The old piece of hardware uses radio frequency to relay messages to school buildings. It works on the same frequency as the facility workers' walkie-talkies -- which occasionally causes walkie-talkie disruptions. 

But give it its due -- the computer has been chugging along for three decades.

"It has been a tried, true, reliable system since the early '80s," John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for the school district, told HuffPost. "With few exceptions, this computer has not been turned off, running virtually nonstop." 

Keeping the Amiga running has become expensive and energy-inefficient, said Helmholdt. But even when the district replaces the computer, he suggested they might not part with it completely.

"It's become symbolic of the district in a way," Helmholdt said. "It may be old, but, boy, it runs well, it keeps on running and it produces results."

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