DOE asks for $75M to cool schools
The budget request is for the necessary infrastructure for air conditioning
As many as 100 Hawaii public schools could get the basic infrastructure for new air-conditioning systems under a $75 million budget request for electrical upgrades drafted by the Department of Education.
Department officials said the proposed request for the 2007-08 fiscal year would be by far the largest amount of money ever requested in a single year for school electrical upgrades, dwarfing the current year's budgeted $2 million.
It also would provide the electrical infrastructure for new computer systems and other growing power needs in schools as technology use in classrooms grows steadily.
"This hopefully will cover not just AC but also a lot of the other high-tech stuff that schools have been crying for," said Duane Kashiwai, the department's public works manager.
The $75 million request is part of a proposed $388 million budget request for new construction and school repair in the 2007-08 fiscal year, part of the 2007-09 biennium budget.
The Department of Education plans to ask for $354 million in construction and repair funds in 2008-09.
Department officials presented the draft budget to the Board of Education's Finance Committee yesterday. It was approved.
Only about 20 of the state's more than 250 public schools are fully air-conditioned.
Students and teachers across the state swelter in stuffy classrooms during the hottest months of the year, a situation worsened by the introduction this school year of a new schedule that moves up the start of the fall semester to late July.
Electrical upgrades required before air conditioning can be installed typically cost about $750,000 per school, or as much as half the cost of the total air conditioning project, said Randy Moore, interim director of business services for the department.
The $75 million should thus cover upgrades for around 100 schools, he said.
"This will lay the groundwork for more schools eventually getting air conditioning," Moore said.
If the request is approved next year, the department will then begin looking at which schools need air conditioning and will draw up a priority list, Kashiwai said.
Just $5 million will be requested next year for the actual air conditioning systems. But that's higher than the typical allotment of $2 million per year and Kashiwai said he expects those numbers to grow each year as the electrical groundwork is put in place.
Schools' growing need for high-tech equipment such as computers, printers, video equipment and computer networking also has outpaced the infrastructure, he said.
"When a lot of our schools were designed 40 to 50 years ago, they all had four plugs in each room. That doesn't work now," he said.
The electrical request highlighted a budget wish list that also included $75 million in each of the next two years for general school building improvements. Construction of a number of new schools in growing areas of the state also would be funded.
The department plans to submit its larger operating budget to the committee at its next meeting on Oct. 4.