IN THE NEWS: 100 portable AC units are split among 5 schools in West Oahu

100 portable AC units are split among 5 schools in West Oahu

By Nanea Kalani

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 4, 2015

The state Department of Education has received a final shipment of 100 portable air conditioners that officials say will go into five West Oahu schools as part of an ongoing effort to cool more classrooms.

Twenty portable units each will be installed at Barbers Point Elementary in Kapolei, Leihoku Elementary in Waianae, Waipahu Elementary and Intermediate schools, and August Ahrens Elementary, also in Waipahu. The schools are ranked among the top 20 public schools in need of so-called heat abatement.

“We’re in the process right now of actually installing those in four classrooms at each one of those schools. That will complete our portable AC installation for this season, and again we will leave them in there until the weather finally cools off — hopefully soon,” Dann Carlson, DOE assistant superintendent for school facilities, told the Board of Education on Tuesday as part of a monthly update on cooling efforts.

Fewer than 10 percent of public schools — 22 out of 256 schools statewide — have campuswide central air conditioning, and the DOE estimates it would cost $1.7 billion to install central air in all remaining schools.

Air conditioning is just one of the department’s heat abatement initiatives, which also include installing ceiling fans, solar-powered vents to draw out hot air, and heat-reflective roof systems. Using a heat abatement study completed earlier this year by San Francisco-based MK Think, the DOE’s goal is for classroom temperatures to be 76 degrees. For classrooms where heat abatement efforts don’t sufficiently bring down the temperature, mechanical cooling is planned.

The department has emphasized that the portable air-conditioning units are being used as a temporary solution to the extreme heat felt in many of the state’s classrooms.

Steamy temperatures have persisted following record-hot summer months. During August, for example, there were 19 days when temperatures reached 90 degrees or higher in Honolulu, according to the National Weather Service. In September there were 11 days with temperatures at or above 90, and seven such days in October.

Students, parents and teachers complained about the heat, saying the conditions can make it hard to concentrate and have become a health hazard in some cases. Amid growing public pressure, the DOE began installing portable air-conditioning units in the state’s hottest classrooms in September. The department has spent approximately $146,178 to buy 404 portable air conditioners, according to a department spokesman.

As of this week units have been installed in 94 classrooms at 16 schools statewide — eight on Oahu, four on Maui, three on Hawaii island and one on Molokai — not including the five schools announced Tuesday. Additional units have been set aside for several schools that first need to undergo electrical upgrades in order to run the air conditioners.

Carlson has previously said that energy use across schools in August increased by 13 percent compared with August 2014, signaling a likely increase to the $48 million budget set aside for energy costs this fiscal year.

Other recent cooling efforts include the installation of water bottle-filling stations, heat-reflective sealants on 91 portable classrooms’ roofs, and ceiling fans in 17 of those portables.

“The results we’re getting back are that there’s a substantial difference in thermal comfort,” Carlson said.