Students rally at the Hawaii State Capitol for cooler classrooms

Air conditioning for classrooms
The HSTA’s priority is to lead and advocate change in our schools that will improve the practice
of teaching and student learning conditions. Although the HSTA is not one of the organizers of
the rally, we always support and encourage our member teachers to get involved in issues
affecting their schools.

The HSTA is aware of the effect of the lack of air conditioning on the learning environment at
Hawaii’s public schools. And we also understand the need for the Department of Education to
review various factors in resolving this issue.

This is an issue that the HSTA is reviewing at the state level. And we hope that all parties –
teachers, parents, students, the DOE, our elected officials, and other community stakeholders –
will continue to discuss and explore potential solutions. Because educating Hawaii’s children is
everyone’s responsibility.


Students, teachers rally in the fight for air conditioners in classrooms

Lawmakers say it could cost $2.5 million to upgrade electrical system; $10 to put AC units in every room

UPDATED 2:34 PM HST Sep 26, 2013

HONOLULU —The fight to get air conditioning in public schools is heating up.

  Capitol rally to push for cooler classrooms

  Students and teachers from more than 23 public schools from across the state are expected to participate in a rally at the State Capitol Thursday calling on lawmakers to provide cooler classrooms, which could involve air conditioning.

Students and teachers took their frustrations over overheated classrooms to the state capitol Thursday morning.

A cool school.  It’s what students from Campbell High School want, but don’t have.  The proof, they say, is what temperature gauges in the classrooms read—too often in the 90s.

“It gets muggy and hot and there’s no circulation. You have to sit there and you’re wiping sweat and you can’t focus,” said Campbell high school junior, Amanda Thirion.

But this plea for air conditioning at the state’s largest high school is not new.

The education department said it understands the need for cooler classrooms.  The problem is the money.

State lawmakers said it could cost $2.5 million just to upgrade the electrical system.

It would be an estimated $10 million to put AC units in every room.

State Representative Bob McDermott said as a parent of a Campbell High school student, he’s got a vested interest in helping to get the money.

“We’re all working in concert on this and we’re gonna get some money this year, I’m sure of it,” said McDermott, who represents the Ewa Beach area.


Teachers, Students to Rally for AC in ‘Hot, Cramped’ Classrooms


Too hot to handle.

That’s the message students, teachers and parents from at least 24 of Hawaii’s public schools will be sending to lawmakers tomorrow morning at the state Capitol, where they’ll be rallying for one simple cause: air conditioning in classrooms.

Roughly nine out of every 10 of the 287 public schools in the state lack AC even though classroom temperatures in some of the hottest areas — Oahu’s Leeward Coast, for example — can reach degrees in the high 90s.

Press releases sent out by Campbell High School teacher and rally organizer Corey Rosenlee have pictures to prove it. One shows a thermometer at 96 degrees.

The “cinderblock-oven” condition of classrooms is antithetical to student learning, according to Rosenlee, who cites a slew of studies showing that temperatures above 78 degrees make it difficult to concentrate, absorb information and stay alert.

Department of Education officials say they’re working on projects to cool down classrooms as part of a sustainability master plan, which promotes technology such as solar-powered ventilators and solar lights. Efforts are also underway to put ceiling fans in schools on the Leeward Coast and the southeast coast of the Big Island.

A DOE spokeswoman told Civil Beat on Wednesday that the department is updating its school priority list as it continues to install AC at campuses across the state. Campbell is now no. 4, after Hickam Elementary, Ewa Beach Elementary and Ilima Intermediate.

As many as 500 people are expected to attend tomorrow’s rally, about 460 of them Campbell students, Rosenlee said. The students, most of them juniors and seniors, are attending or advocating to lawmakers as part of projects for Participation and Democracy courses or learning academies within Campbell that build on a cross-section of subjects such as science, math and art.

Rosenlee hopes students are able to take the activism and other skills they gain from the field trip — measuring temperatures, collecting data and exploring the role of art in civic engagement, for example — into the classroom and beyond.

Speakers at tomorrow’s rally, which starts with sign-waving at 9 am and then an assembly at 10 am in the rotunda, include Rosenlee, teacher and former Civil Beat columnist Michael Wooten, Sen. Will Espero and Rep. Bob McDermott.

Newspaper Editorial: Be creative in cooling classrooms
Wed, September 11, 2013 - 1:40 a.m.


Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Be creative in cooling classrooms

Learning can be difficult, even under the best conditions, and most Hawaii public school children don’t have anything close to the best condition in their classrooms.

It’s September, which is still the thick of summer in the islands, and thanks to the year-round academic year, the students already have been struggling with the heat for weeks. The prospect of air conditioning in every classroom probably sounds dreamy to them.

The reality is that fulfilling such a promise would cost an estimated $1 billion. A rally planned for Sept. 26, led by students and teachers, surely will garner public sympathy, but the reality is there is nowhere near the money in state coffers to underwrite an across-the-board air-conditioning upgrade.

What remains the most practical approach is fast-tracking air conditioning in the hottest of the hot classrooms, where fans and other lesser improvements just can’t do the job, and focus on less expensive upgrades in the near term for schools further down the list.

That is basically the strategy of the state Department of Education, although money to carry it out has been short in recent budgetary cycles. All the same, the Legislature should continue to support that mission rather than expand it more broadly to a statewide push.

Funding should be provided in a way that produces the most improvement for the most schools as soon as possible, and in many cases it’s more realistic to tailor the upgrades to the needs and capacity of each school.

This means principals should be given as much leeway as possible, within the bounds of state procurement laws, to craft the solutions for their campuses. Schools also should be supported in efforts involving parents, businesses and others in the communities to cooperate in fundraising efforts, so that simpler improvements could be made more quickly.

The 2007 Legislature considered a statewide air-conditioning program but shelved it as too costly. The focus on the schools with the worst heat benefited Kihei, Pohakea and Lokelani elementaries; the first two schools are fully air conditioned, and Lokelani is midway through its upgrade. Other schools on the A-list: Hickam, Ewa Beach, Aikahi, Maili, Kamaile, Kaimiloa and Nimitz elementaries; Ilima Intermediate and Campbell High School.

The DOE estimates the cost per school as ranging from $3.5 million to $10 million, depending on the school size. If that sounds high, it is: According to the DOE, the price tag can rise in older buildings where electrical systems also need to be replaced.

This underscores why it makes sense to consider alternative methods. The DOE is in the process of installing ceiling fans in 150 Leeward Oahu classrooms, which should help.

Other alternative cooling projects receiving state funds include a series of heat-reduction modifications — such as “solar tubes” illuminating classrooms while the light is switched off — at Kahuku Intermediate and High School in 2010, at a cost of $311,000.

In addition to fans, Ewa Beach Elementary the same year also was tagged to get reroofed, improving insulation against the sun’s heat. Reports from the campus were that small improvements did make things more comfortable.

Nobody questions that the heat, extending beyond the traditional summer months in Hawaii, poses a real problem for public school students. However, if the goal is to lower temperatures for kids currently in the public school system, the state and school communities must pursue solutions to be put in place well before they sweat their way through to graduation.


Students turn on heat for air conditioning

A rally at the state Capitol spotlights the stifling conditions at isle public schools

By Susan Essoyan

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 27, 2013

Toting handmade signs to “Cool Our School,” nearly 500 students from Campbell High School in Ewa Beach converged on the state Capitol with their teachers and principal Thursday to rally for air conditioning in the public schools.

“It gets like 90 degrees in the classroom,” said Precious Guieb, a petite 11th-grader wearing heart-shaped sunglasses. “It makes you feel like fainting or falling asleep.”

Campbell is fourth on the priority list of schools pegged to receive air conditioning, but there is no saying when that will happen. Through the past seven years, four campuses statewide have been air-conditioned and moved off that list.

The rally is part of a years-long effort to encourage legislators to step up the pace in funding such efforts. It was a field trip for the students, who are measuring temperatures in their classrooms, analyzing the data and writing or calling their legislators.

Organizers hope to get the issue on the radar before the legislative session starts in January. Students at 23 other schools have joined the campaign by sending letters to lawmakers, according to Corey Rosenlee, a social studies teacher at Campbell who organized the rally.

Statewide, 12 schools have central air conditioning, out of a total 255 campuses. A 13th campus, Loke­lani Intermediate, is midway through its conversion. The department has also been trying to make classrooms more comfortable by putting in ceiling fans and installing solar-powered ventilators, which pull hot air up and out of rooms, allowing cooler air to come in through windows.

“I empathize with everybody who has to sit in a hot classroom,” said Ray L’Heu­reux, assistant superintendent in charge of school facilities and support services. “We’ve got to get that turned around.”

“Whether that’s heat abatement or adding air conditioning, we’ve got a priority list looking at the schools most in need, and we’re working our way through them. At the end of the day, it comes down to resources.”


These schools are on the priority list to receive air conditioning:

>> Hickam Elementary
>> Ewa Beach Elementary
>> Ilima Intermediate
>> Campbell High
>> Aikahi Elementary
>> Kamaile Academy
>> Kaimiloa Elementary
>> Nimitz Elementary
>> Mokulele Elementary
>> Pearl Harbor-Kai Elementary

Source: State Department of Education

Hawaii’s schools are old — on average 65 years old — and many could not handle the electrical load for air conditioning without structural upgrades. At Campbell, for example, the department estimates it would cost $13 million to put in central air conditioning campuswide. That includes electrical work, replacing jalousie windows with airtight windows, and the air conditioning, according to Duane Kashi­wai, public works administrator.

A similar air-conditioning project at nearby Poha­kea Elementary, which was put out to bid, was recently completed at a cost of $4.3 million, Kashi­wai said. Poha­kea has 38 classrooms while Campbell has 139, plus all the facilities that come with a high school.

Rep. Bob McDermott and Sen. Will Espero, who represent Ewa Beach, spoke at the rally, telling the students they would push the issue with their colleagues.

“I live in Ewa. My daughter goes to Campbell,” McDermott told the students. “I have a personal stake in it. We’re working very hard. Your voices are important.”

Campbell junior Amanda Thirion has lived in Okla­homa, California and Louisiana, and told the crowd that all her previous schools had air conditioning. She said she was appalled to find that most of Campbell’s classrooms have none.

“Never have I seen this lack of concern about the student environment,” she said. “It isn’t a coincidence that my hottest class is also my lowest grade.”

Francesca DePasquale, a science teacher at Campbell, has had her students taking the temperature in various classrooms at different times and also measuring humidity, then analyzing the data.

“It’s generally in the high 80s, sometimes 90s,” she said. “It’s so difficult to function or concentrate or even stay awake. It’s been a really hot August and September.”

Since 2011 the department has been installing ceiling fans in classrooms at 15 schools along the Wai­anae Coast and on the southeastern flank of Hawaii island. Across the state, many schools have ceiling fans and some air-conditioning units, usually in libraries and band rooms.

In town, Kaiulani Elementary School has ceiling fans in classrooms, and last year added solar-powered ventilation to its cafeteria.

“It’s made a significant difference,” said Principal Rodney Mori­wake. “The kids are in a much more comfortable environment that doesn’t tax our electrical bill.”

Rosenlee, the rally organizer, said air-conditioning units could also run on solar power and need not be expensive.

The department already has ambitious plans to install solar power at all its campuses within the next five years, with no upfront cost. The vendor will put in photovoltaic panels and be paid for the electricity they generate at rates below what schools now pay.

“We are about ready to award that proposal,” L’Heu­reux said. “That’s for the entire inventory of schools in the state.”

The electrical bill to power the state’s public schools is $48 million a year, a cost that has been growing even as conservation efforts have reduced overall energy demand on its campuses. The department estimates that if all schools were air-conditioned, that bill would jump to $132 million a year, L’Heu­reux said.

Students at the rally realized the campaign for cooler classrooms could be a long one.

“I hope we get air con before I graduate,” said Josh Agta­rap, a junior, pulling at the front of his Sabers Football T-shirt to cool off. “We’re doing this all for the people younger than us.”