With students going to school until mid-June and sometimes later, it’s common to find them sitting in hot rooms. But because of the high cost associated with installing central air conditioning, teachers have to do the best they can to keep their classrooms and students cool.
Sitting in a classroom that is hot, humid and muggy can affect academic performance. According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study in 2002, there was a “statistically significant or noteworthy relationship” between student performance on tests and an air-conditioned environment.
The heat has presented a problem for some area schools. Southington school system Operations Director Fred Cox said he remembers students having early dismissal “for one or two days to give a little relief.” In Wallingford, the heat created a dangerous situation for one elementary school and its students, said Michael Votto, a member of the Board of Education.
Votto said the temperature at E.C. Stevens School once got so high the school had to close.
“The heat was affecting the kids,” he said.
While no area town has all its schools outfitted with central air-conditioning, efforts are being made to keep classroom temperatures down.
In Wallingford, most schools rely on fans and open windows.
“It’s partially financial and the other issue is the structural aspect,” said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo. “To retrofit the older buildings, it’s not just dropping a unit on top of the roof. It’s the venting and duct work and everything - that’s the challenge.”
While most of the classrooms aren’t air-conditioned, Menzo said each school does have some air conditioning “based on the educational needs and plans” for specialneeds students. This year, Wallingford schools are in session until June 28. Although he recognizes how hot it could get, Menzo said other projects need to be completed first.
“The cost is attributed and connected to the age of the building,” he said. “There’s so many capsule projects that are necessary to be completed. We need to prioritize.”
Meriden and Southington schools are slowly installing central air conditioning.
In Meriden, the renovation of Maloney and Platt high schools includes central air. Facilities Director David Paul said an air-conditioned classroom creates a better learning environment, but Paul said the cost is prohibitive.
“It’s all driven by financials. It’s economics,” Paul said. “To install the equipment is just so costly.”
Because the costs are so high, Paul said air conditioning is installed in the schools when schools are renovated to save money. In schools without central air, teachers use fans, opening windows and keep blinds and shades down.
“We would put in the A/C where we could if the finances allowed,” he said. “We try to make those environments as user-friendly as we possibly can and try to make the most appropriate learning environment.”
Southington schools either have full air conditioning or specific areas that are air-conditioned, according to Cox. The high school and vo-ag center are both fully air-conditioned, and five elementary schools have air conditioning in core areas, such as the main office, guidance department, cafeteria and auditorium, he said. While the other school systems cite financial concerns as a reason to not install air conditioning, Cox said his town’s decision was driven by Southington Board of Education.
“There was some decision making in 1998 when the Board of Education put together education building specifications for the first three elementary schools to be remodeled. A decision was made just to aircondition the core areas,” Cox said. “When we did Plantsville and South End - to be consistent - they were air-conditioned the same way as the first three buildings.
“Because now there appears to be more summer programming in the district, the Board of Education decided to go with air conditioning in the buildings ... It’s driven by what the Board of Education feels the needs of the facilities are when being remodeled,” he said.
Cox said the school system uses similar methods as other area schools to keep temperatures down in classrooms. The second-floor windows in the schools are left open overnight to try to cool the rooms down and blinds and shades are kept down to try to block out the sun.
“It’s basic scientific principles - keep the sun out,” Cox said.
Administrators and teachers are doing their best to beat the heat.
“We’ve had hot days in June and September,” Cox said. “It just seems like something we deal with accordingly.”