STAMFORD – Funding delayed over the winter and spring now has some public school classrooms roasting in a September heat wave.
A number of the 210 window air-conditioning units purchased after final funding was approved April 3 were not installed by Tuesday, when students returned from the long Labor Day weekend to begin the first full week of the school year, a district spokeswoman said.
At Cloonan Middle School Tuesday, a window unit was sitting on a classroom floor still in its packaging as air temperatures climbed. During past heat waves, temperatures in some classrooms have approached 90 degrees.
The $300,000 project to purchase and install air-conditioning units “was not funded as early as we had hoped, which meant the procurement process didn’t start early enough to get all approved units delivered and installed over the summer,” Stamford Public Schools spokeswoman Kathleen Steinberg said Tuesday. “The facilities and maintenance team has been installing the new air-conditioning units as quickly as possible following delivery, but this work requires electrical and carpentry work in most classrooms to accommodate the units.”
Of the 210 units purchased, 118 have been delivered since July 24, Steinberg said. Fifty have been installed, she said.
All units designated for K.T. Murphy Elementary School and Dolan Middle School are installed, and installation at Newfield Elementary School is to begin next week, she said.
About a third of the air-conditioning units slated for Cloonan Middle School were installed before Labor Day, she said. The remaining units are scheduled to be installed this week.
It’s unlikely they will all provide relief from the heat wave.
Gov. Ned Lamont activated the state’s extreme hot weather protocol beginning at noon Tuesday and extending through 8 p.m. Thursday. Forecasters are calling for near-record temperatures in the low 90s with high humidity for the three days, meaning the air will feel even hotter. Friday is expected to be in the upper 80s and still humid.
Among Stamford’s roughly 800 public school classrooms, about 140 have central air conditioning, and about 280 have window units.
That leaves about 380 classrooms with no air conditioning.
Steinberg said the window units are being installed by school electricians and carpenters “who also are responsible for all other building repairs.”
City Rep. Bonnie Kim Campbell, a paraeducator at Cloonan Middle School, said by her count, six of 25 classrooms had air-conditioning Tuesday.
“They doubled up rooms with the six teachers who had it, and some classes went to the auditorium,” Campbell said. “The third floor was the worst because the heat rises and stays there.”
The principal’s office checked on everyone and had someone visit classrooms with a Thermometer to measure temperatures, Campbell said.
“I don’t know what numbers they got, but I was clammy, teachers and kids were feeling lethargic, and kids fell asleep,” Campbell said. “We tried to keep spirits up, but this is not the best situation for people.”
The lack of air conditioning has been a problem for years, and school officials tried to address it again when they went before the Board of Finance on Jan. 19.
At that meeting, Stamford Public Schools Facilities Director Kevin McCarthy asked for $300,000 for window units, with half of the funding coming from the Board of Education’s budget and half from the city’s budget.
Meeting minutes show that finance board members wanted evidence that window units would be the most cost-effective way to cool classrooms in May, June and September, including dollar amounts for maintaining them and for the electricity needed to operate them.
When McCarthy said he didn’t have the information, finance board members asked him to come back with it, voting unanimously to hold the request until their Feb. 9 meeting.
At that meeting, McCarthy returned with Superintendent Tamu Lucero and Cindy Grafstein, joint facilities officer for the city and the Board of Education. But finance board members said McCarthy, Lucero and Grafstein did not answer their questions and voted, again unanimously, to hold the request until the next meeting, the minutes show.
On March 9, Ryan Fealey, chief financial officer for Stamford Public Schools, made a presentation comparing the costs for renting air-conditioning units instead of buying them, and buying portable units instead of window units. Fealey also had information on the cost of the carpentry work required to install and remove window units.
Board of Finance members were satisfied and approved $300,000 to purchase new units. The request then went to the Board of Representatives for final approval, which was granted April 3.
Steinberg said Tuesday that school officials have “communicated to teachers, staff, and families that they should expect some areas of buildings without central air conditioning to get uncomfortably warm, especially later in the school day, and that building administrators would have a plan in place for rotating staff and students into cooler areas of their buildings.”
Steinberg said Lucero sent a note to teachers and staff on Sept. 4 saying that the facilities department “worked over the summer to install additional air-conditioning units in several buildings,” but some are still lacking.
“There are no laws or public health codes regarding excessive heat in school buildings resulting from elevated outdoor temperatures. Additionally, the State of Connecticut does not make any recommendations about when to close school buildings during periods of excessive heat,” Lucero’s note reads.
She included recommendations from the state Department of Public Health about how to handle excessive heat. The health department recommends not waiting to get thirsty before drinking water; avoiding sugary drinks because they cause a loss of body fluid; dressing in loose, lightweight clothing; limiting outdoor activity; and keeping children indoors and somewhere cool.
Steinberg said the district “is monitoring the weather forecast and staying in contact with building administrators about the conditions in each building. Should district officials decide to cancel school or call for an early dismissal due to the heat, we will notify families, teachers, and staff through the usual channels.”