Bill aims to cool schools
A Senate committee approves a measure providing $40 million for air conditioning
The state Department of Education would get $40 million over the next two years to air-condition public schools and move toward energy efficiency at campuses statewide under a bill moving through the legislature.
While the proposal, if left intact, would quadruple the department's annual budget to fight the heat at island schools, it would still leave a large majority of teachers and students relying on fans and tradewinds to cool off.
The Department of Education is giving priority to these seven schools when installing air conditioners.
» Kihei Elementary (in progress)
» Lokelani Intermediate
» Pohakea Elementary
» Hickam Elementary
» Ewa Beach Elementary
» Ilima Intermediate
» Campbell High School
Source: Department of Education
The Senate Education Committee passed Senate Bill 76 yesterday, which originally asked the department to come up with a plan to install air conditioners in all schools within a decade. But senators amended the measure after Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the time line was unrealistic and would cost the state $1 billion.
Of the state's 285 schools, just 21 are fully air-conditioned, though some have the units in main offices and some classrooms, said Sanford Beppu, capital improvement planner in the Facilities Development Branch.
With $20 million the department would be able to air-condition about four schools each year, Beppu said, estimating that it costs from $3.5 million to $10 million to install the system depending on campus size. Lawmakers gave the department $5 million for the improvements in the current fiscal year, said Randy Moore, acting assistant superintendent of the DOE.
The last two schools to receive air conditioners were Keoneula Elementary School, which opened this month in Ewa Beach, and Maui Lani Elementary, which will open soon on Maui, Beppu said.
Hamamoto called the bill "a good start" and said the department would continue giving priority to schools in hotter areas.
"As much as we would like to air-condition all schools within 10 years, we do not believe it is realistic," she said in written testimony.
Among the schools at the top of the department's list is Kihei Elementary on Maui. The 800-student school recently got air conditioners for three of its five main buildings and expects to have the entire campus covered with units by the next school year, said Principal Alvin Shima.
"When you are in a hot place and you are trying to concentrate, you become sleepy. And you tend to get more tired at the end of the day," he said, adding that sealed classrooms also blocked noise coming from a nearby highway. "It's really quiet now."
At Pohakea Elementary in Ewa Beach, which ranks third in the department's list, students and teachers suffer from the heat in the summer and fall, said Principal Stephen Schatz.
"It's tough for our teachers to move around the room from beginning to the end of the day when it's 92 degrees in the classroom," he said.
But more air conditioners means higher energy bills, so the department is trying to cut operating costs by building with materials that hold less heat and considering wind flow at future school sites, Beppu said.
Meanwhile, in another vote yesterday, senators approved Senate Bill 97 to give $4 million for the Department of Education to buy science textbooks for schools that have a K-12 articulated science curriculum. The money is needed because the Legislature appropriated only $2 million for the books in the last session, falling short of the $6 million that schools requested, said Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The two bills now move to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.