Schools reopen with summer still blazing

Schools reopen with summer still blazing

(Ariz.) Facility managers all over the nation spent the summer scrambling to get schools ready for the fall term—with special attention paid to air conditioning units.

Students at five schools in the Tucson Unified School District had to be shifted to different classrooms last week when air units broke down while outside temperatures soared into triple digits.

The Hillsborough County School District in the Tampa area, spent $34 million to repair or replace air conditioning units districtwide this year, well aware that there are still dozens of other schools with the systems in need of upgrades.

And in Benton County, Arkansas, schools spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this summer on new roofing, energy efficient windows and climate control systems.

Facility managers say there is always more need than money, but they get as much done as they can.

“We’re just not getting the funding,” Jeff Eakins, superintendent of Hillsborough County schools, told the Tampa Bay Times last week. “In some cases we have to make some tough choices.

“We’re making the repairs, doing what we can,” he continued. “But I have to be honest with you, there are going to be times this year when those air conditioners are going to break.”

Most states have laws requiring classrooms meet certain health and safety standards. In addition to fire, fresh water and clean bathrooms, schools are also generally required to ensure that classrooms do not get too warm.

Last fall, unseasonably hot weather forced school closures in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.

A 2014 survey by the U.S. Education Department reported that 30 percent of district-level staff that participated in the study rated their heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems as being in fair or poor condition.

In Tucson, the failure of air conditioners on the first days of school required administrators to shift students to cooled rooms and install temporary air conditioners and swamp coolers. Under district policy, no classroom can be used when the temperatures exceeds 78 degrees.

Although most modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are designed to run for up to 25 years, replacing one is very expensive.

A new unit for an elementary school can cost upwards of $3 million; a middle school system can be closer to $5 million; and for an average-size high school, the cost can be $15 million.

A study released a year ago by the National Bureau of Economic Research—with support from researchers at Harvard University and from the University of California, Los Angeles, Georgia State and the College Board—found that it was the heat inside the classroom only that appears to lower performance.

 “On average, a 1 degree Fahrenheit hotter school year prior to the exam lowers scores by 0.002 standard deviations or slightly less than 1 percent of a year’s worth of learning,” the study team reported. “Relative to school days with temperatures in the 60s, each additional school day with temperature in the 90s reduces achievement by one-sixth of a percent of a year’s worth of learning. A day above 100 degrees has an effect that is up to 50 percent larger.”

The study linked daily weather data to the test scores of some 10 million high school students who took college entrance practice exams multiple times between 2001 and 2014.

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