Public schools may have to wait for cooler classrooms despite new law

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Hawaii’s public schools received some much-needed funding to relieve hot classrooms Thursday, but it may take awhile to feel the effects.

Gov. David Ige signed a bill Thursday afternoon that allows the state to use $100 million of general funds for air conditioners in classrooms or other heat abatement efforts.

Senate Bill 3126 (Relating to Public Schools) states in part that:

“There is appropriated out of the general revenues of the State of Hawaii the sum of $100,000,000 or so much thereof as may be necessary for fiscal year 2015-2016 for the purpose of funding capital improvement program equipment and installation costs for air conditioning, other heat abatement measures, energy efficient lighting, and other energy efficiency measures at public schools.”

Ige applauded the bill’s passage Wednesday, saying “Cooling the schools was my highest priority and we are glad the legislators agreed. SB3126 allows for an emergency appropriation for air conditioning, heat abatement and related energy efficiency measures at public schools.”

He wants the money to cool 1,000 classrooms by the end of the year.

Some have been fighting for this for years — holding rallies, accepting donations of fans, and even making their own cooling systems.

But teachers and students may have to wait a little longer than they thought.

“The reality is we’re not going to have all 1,000 classrooms air-conditioned by the beginning of the school year, given the timing of the funding we’re getting,” said Dann Carlson of the Hawaii Department of Education.

“But will you meet the governor’s goal of 1,000 by the end of the year?” KHON2 asked.

“I can tell you we will have 1,000 well on its way,” Carlson said.

DOE officials said they’re not sure if all the air conditioners they need for the schools are in stock or if more need to be made, which could delay the process.

“The next concern is how long is it going to take to get those AC units on island,” Carlson said.

“How long is it going to take?” KHON2 asked.

“We don’t know. Again, we anticipate it can take maybe up to three months, maybe up to six months,” Carlson said.

The project must also go through the procurement process, which includes bidding and awarding the contract, and then construction. That means some classrooms might not be cooled until January.

“Are you worried at all that the goal might not get met?” KHON2 asked.

“The one thing I see from this is hope,” said Corey Rosenlee with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. “They’re going to see the possibility that maybe it won’t get done immediately this year, but next year it would.”

DOE officials are looking at ways to cool schools while waiting for air conditioners.

“We’re engaging with the libraries. We got a lot of public libraries located on our schools. We’re looking at ways we can bring classrooms into those facilities during the day,” Carlson said.

The DOE has a heat-abatement priority list, which includes 33 schools. The top three schools are located in the Ewa region of Oahu: Ewa Beach Elementary, Ilima Intermediate, and Campbell High.

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