San Diego Unified accelerates plan to air condition schools
San Diego Unified facilities chief Lee Dulgeroff at the November 10, 2015 meeting where members unanimously approved a plan to air-condition all classrooms by 2019 and counter the carbon emissions with new solar panels. Ingrid Lobet, inewsource

San Diego Unified accelerates plan to air condition schools

Citing increasing certainty that climate change is making its mark on the region, the top construction planner for the second largest school district in California laid out a plan Tuesday night to expedite air conditioning in every classroom, and the school board promptly approved it unanimously.

Research indicates high heat in classrooms can hinder learning, for example reading speed and reading comprehension.

“This year has left little doubt that the Earth and our region are experiencing the effects of climate change,” said Lee Dulgeroff, chief facilities planning and construction officer for the San Diego Unified School District. “Each year we seem to break records.”

District staff developed the accelerated plan under pressure from parents and teachers who reported classroom temperatures in the 90s on multiple days as the school year began. At board meetings held in September they told of children fainting and falling ill from heat stress, and more common — struggling to learn in high heat.

The district estimates it will cost $204 million dollars to air condition approximately 2,000 classrooms in nearly 100 inadequately cooled schools. It will also require an additional $1.4 million per year to maintain the new equipment. The installation money will come from voter-approved bond debt (propositions S and Z), which is paid back to investors via taxes on property owners. Those whose children attend coastal schools were told they might see less in the way of planned upgrades in order to shift bond money toward air conditioning.

Even though the measure has passed, some students who are freshmen now will be close to graduating before their classrooms comply with the 78 degree some experts recommend. The new plan in San Diego calls for the installation to take place between 2016 and 2019.

But Dulgeroff hinted the job could be completed earlier, perhaps within two years. Four teams of architects, contractors and project managers will be working concurrently, he said.

Air conditioning is typically a heavy percentage of a building’s electrical draw. So new installations add significant new load at a time when schools are working to reduce electrical use. But officials said they plan to install sufficient solar power to counter the new load, about 10.5 million kilowatt hours per year, making the project carbon neutral.

Some parents present at the meeting seemed satisfied by the board action, even if it means students will spend more years in overheated classrooms.

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About Ingrid Lobet:

Ingrid Lobet
Ingrid Lobet is a reporter at inewsource specializing in the environment. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email ingridlobet@inewsource.org.