Cooling Hawaii schools a test in patience

Cooling Hawaii schools a test in patience

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

Hickam Elementary School used to be on the Department of Education's list of campuses with hot classrooms. But now it is fully air conditioned.

"On these hot days I will admit it is nice to come into an air conditioned room," principal Rory Vierra said.

Portable buildings have window units. Main buildings have split systems. Classrooms are now kept at a comfortable 75 degrees. The DOE did it for $2.5 million.

Ewa Beach Elementary is next in line for AC. Classroom temperatures can hit 90 degrees. But cooling the campus won't happen this year.

"We have to go tiny steps, I guess," vice principal Robert Hurley said. "I think right now they're going to upgrade the electrical, which will take almost a year. And I suppose another year for the air conditioning."

It will cost $5 million to air condition Ewa Beach Elementary, $8 million for Ilima Intermediate and $13 million for Campbell High School, the top three schools on the Education Department's AC priority list.

DOE Assistant Superintendent for Facilities Ray L'Heureux said it costs about $100,000 to air condition a 900-square-foot classroom.

"It's not just the cooling systems, all the other things that have to happen, so that we're not just air conditioning the outside once we get that system in," he said.

The cost includes the AC unit, electrical upgrades, building insulation and labor. Two big air conditioning contractors told Hawaii News Now the DOE's estimate is accurate.

"We competitively bid it. They're going to give us the lowest bid. We're mandated by law to take that lowest bid, and that's about what it costs," L'Heureux said.

This past legislative session lawmakers shelved a bill for $25 million to cool schools. The DOE will continue to ask for money.

"If you want to introduce 21st Century learning into a 21st Century learning space, it should be temperate," L'Heureux said.

The DOE's heat abatement plan includes ceiling fans for some schools. L'Heureux said they cost about $1,000 apiece.

"It is high but it factors in everything. Some classrooms you have to bring the power in. Some classrooms you have miles of conduit that you have to run," he said.

It may take two years for Ewa Beach Elementary to join the list of cool schools.

"As long as we're number one, we'll try to maintain that," Hurley said.

That top spot on the DOE's AC priority list makes the wait bearable. Putting up with the heat is another matter.

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