New DOE AC policy will bring relief to many hot classrooms

The installation of LED lights has freed up electricity to install more air conditioning

Updated Nov. 4, 2019: The HIDOE posted a new link for its working list of schools that have electrical assessments scheduled or completed. For more information, please contact your ASA.

Thousands of classrooms in schools that have converted to energy-saving LED light bulbs could use electricity savings to install air conditioning allowing for a much quicker and cheaper AC conversion than previous methods.

The DOE is now allowing window AC units, which can range from a home unit to a more expensive commercial-grade window unit that is quieter, more efficient and cools a larger area.

The DOE has also created a Schools Directed AC (SDAC) program, authorizing each school to decide about and pay for the AC additions it needs, as long as its electrical system can handle the upgrades. The department is now allowing window AC units for classrooms because they are simple to operate and maintain, use new energy-efficient technology, and do not create hazardous material concerns during installation. 

“Our keiki and our teachers deserve a better learning environment. For years, the HSTA has advocated for the public school system to air condition our classrooms,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “I’m glad the DOE is taking these steps to make it easier and much cheaper to install AC. Our educators can now advocate and tap into community supporters to speed up the process. I hope that in a few years all of our hot classrooms in Hawaii will finally be cooled.”

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

Schools that have installed LED lights have more power for AC

All of Oahu’s 171 public schools have replaced fluorescent light bulbs to LED lights and at least 51 out of 93 neighbor-island schools have been converted as of early August. In all, more than 80 percent of classrooms statewide have converted to LED light bulbs. These lights reduce energy use by 62 percent, freeing up electrical load to run new air conditioning units. By the end of January, the DOE hopes to replace fluorescent bulbs with LED bulbs in every public school classroom in the state.

So far, 200 energy-efficient window AC units have been installed or are in the process of being installed under the SDAC program at 52 schools across the state, the DOE said.

Your school needs an electrical assessment before adding more AC

Schools that have converted to energy-saving LED lights need to conduct an electrical assessment during the school day when there’s the highest use of power to see how much capacity their school has to add air conditioning. The DOE began conducting those assessments in October of 2018 and has completed them at more than 40 schools statewide, on Maui, Hawaii Island, and Oahu. Schools on Kauai had yet to receive any assessments as of August 9. The DOE is responsible for 256 public schools and hopes to finish assessing the electrical capacity of all of them by the end of this school year.

Updated Nov. 4, 2019: The HIDOE posted a working list of schools that have electrical assessments scheduled or completed. For more information, please contact your ASA.

Here is a list of schools that requested electrical assessments—many of which were already completed—as of Sept. 3, 2019. It does not include schools that conducted their own electrical assessments, do not need assessments to change AC units, are undergoing electrical upgrades, or declined assessment.

  • Aiea High
  • Aina Haina Elementary
  • Ala Wai Elementary
  • Alvah Scott Elementary
  • August Ahrens Elementary
  • Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle
  • Eleele Elementary
  • Ewa Elementary
  • Governor Wallace Rider Farrington High
  • Haaheo Elementary
  • Hahaione Elementary
  • Haiku Elementary
  • Hale Kula Elementary
  • Haleiwa Elementary
  • Heeia Elementary
  • Henry Perrine Baldwin High
  • Hilo High
  • Hilo Intermediate
  • Hilo Union Elementary
  • Hokulani Elementary
  • Holualoa Elementary
  • Honowai Elementary
  • Iao Intermediate
  • Iliahi Elementary
  • James B. Castle High
  • Jefferson Elementary
  • Kaaawa Elementary
  • Kaala Elementary
  • Kaelepulu Elementary
  • Kahakai Elementary
  • Kahaluu Elementary
  • Kahuku Elementary
  • Kahuku High and Intermediate
  • Kahului Elementary
  • Kailua Elementary
  • Kailua Intermediate
  • Kaimiloa Elementary
  • Kainalu Elementary
  • Kaiulani Elementary
  • Kalaheo High
  • Kalani High
  • Kaleiopuu Elementary
  • Kapiolani Elementary
  • Kapunahala Elementary
  • Kawananakoa Middle
  • Kealakehe High
  • Kealakehe Intermediate
  • Kekaulike High
  • Keolu Elementary
  • Keonepoko Elementary
  • Kipapa Elementary
  • Kohala Elementary
  • Koko Head Elementary
  • Kuhio Elementary
  • Lanakila Elementary
  • Leilehua High
  • Lihikai Elementary
  • Linapuni Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary
  • Lokelani Intermediate
  • Makalapa Elementary
  • Makawao Elementary
  • Manana Elementary
  • Manoa Elementary
  • Maui High
  • Maui Waena Intermediate
  • Maunaloa Elementary
  • Maunawili Elementary
  • Mililani High
  • Mililani Waena Elementary
  • Moanalua Middle
  • Niu Valley Middle
  • Noelani Elementary
  • Nuuanu Elementary
  • Palisades Elementary
  • Pauoa Elementary
  • Pearl Ridge Elementary
  • Pope Elementary
  • Pukalani Elementary
  • Radford High
  • Roosevelt High
  • Stevenson Middle
  • Sunset Beach Elementary
  • Wahiawa Elementary
  • Wahiawa Middle
  • Waiahole Elementary
  • Waiakea Elementary
  • Waiakea Intermediate
  • Waiakeawaena Elementary
  • Waialae Elementary PCS
  • Waianae Elementary
  • Waianae High
  • Waianae Intermediate
  • Waiau Elementary
  • Waikoloa Elementary Middle
  • Waimanalo Elementary & Intermediate
  • Waipahu Elementary
  • Waipahu High
  • Wheeler Elementary
  • Wheeler Middle
  • Wilcox Elementary

If your principal hasn’t already requested an assessment, encourage him or her to do so by submitting a Google Form to the administrative services assistant (ASA) in your complex area. The DOE will cover the costs of the assessment but there may be a wait because the DOE is batching the assessments by island or complex to complete several at once and save on costs.

Schools can also hire licensed electricians independently to assess how much capacity they have if they have the budget to do that.

Schools that have completed electrical assessments can look up the results on the state’s CIP Project Tracking System, to which every legislator, principal, and ASA has a password. The tracking system allows them to see electricity capacity results as well as the status of all capital improvement projects. The assessments will reveal which buildings have electrical capacity for air conditioning and how many window AC units can be installed. 

The assessments will recommend what type of air conditioning units to install, such as two commercial-grade, two-ton window AC units (24,000 BTU) for a typical 900-foot classroom, which are about double the size of a regular-size home window AC unit. While these larger units require three-phase power with 240 kilovolts, home AC units require just regular 120 KV power sources. A regular-sized classroom would need maybe three or four regular-sized home window units to cool effectively.

Charter schools are responsible for their own facilities, so most of them are not included in this effort. Charter schools are exempt from state procurement rules, which makes it easier for charter schools to purchase services and install air conditioning. While conversion charter schools can get some help from the DOE Facilities Branch, stand-alone charter schools need to pay for their own assessments and upgrades.

Window AC price estimates have dropped dramatically

A typical commercial-grade, two-ton window AC units would cost about $1,600 to purchase, with two needed for the average classroom for a total purchase price of about $3,200. Labor and installation by licensed electricians can cost thousands more per classroom, pushing the overall cost (materials and labor) per classroom to about $8,000, a fraction of the cost of split-AC or package AC units.

A school can lower installation costs by getting parents or community members who are licensed electricians to do the work for free or at a reduced rate. The money needed to purchase and install window AC units can come from school funds, fundraisers, or booster groups, or you can work with your state legislators to appropriate funds during the next legislative session that begins in January 2020. Find your senator and representative by entering your street name and zip code here. Privately raised funds from foundations, parent-teacher groups, and other community organizations avoid the requirement to deal with the state’s sometimes slow and cumbersome procurement law requirements.

The Schools Directed AC program replaces former DOE guidance on accepting and installing donated AC units that required approvals by multiple offices.

The DOE now recommends the following air conditioning equipment:

  • Capacity: Two 2-ton (24,000 BTU/h) units for a typical 900 square-foot classroom.
  • Technology: Dual inverter or commercial grade.
  • Energy efficiency: Energy Star certified.

The DOE's cost estimates for different types of AC systems

The DOE has determined that sustainable systems include:

  • Window AC, which is the least expensive, less efficient, uses new dual inverter technology and can be noisy. Estimated cost per classroom $8,000.
  • Split AC, which is expensive, more efficient, require conduits and are quiet. Estimated cost per classroom: $30,000.
  • Package AC, which is very expensive, the most efficient, requires air ducts and is quiet. Estimated cost per classroom: $60,000.

The department has determined that several AC systems still in use are unsustainable, including photovoltaic systems, because they are complex to operate and maintain and expensive to replace. The DOE has learned from experience that central plant AC systems aren’t ideal for schools because of their long-term costs. They can range anywhere from $10 to $25 million to replace, and when the system breaks, the entire school loses its air conditioning.

Central air conditioning plants need replacement soon at the following schools: Mililani Middle, Maili Elementary (including the cafeteria), Keaau High, and Mililani Mauka Elementary.

For more information 

Contact the administrative services assistant (ASA) for your complex.

Read the DOE's news release about the new AC program.

Featured photo provided by the Hawaii Department of Education.

Author: Keoki Kerr