DeKalb District 428 school board members must either install a cooling system at Lincoln Elementary School or come up with another solution that offers students a livable learning environment on hot days.
In each of the past two years, students at Lincoln have endured sweltering classroom conditions, then had their school days ended early or canceled altogether during September heat waves.
This year, students lost two days – Sept. 21 and 22 – with attendance optional Monday and Tuesday in the midst of the record heat wave. Some students at Lincoln complained of headaches and vomiting, although it’s not certain whether that is due to the conditions or to the germ exchange that commonly occurs among students.
Parents are understandably aggravated by this. They don’t want their children spending hours sweating through the school day, and last-minute school cancellations are a major inconvenience for working parents, who then have to scramble to arrange child care or miss work.
It’s not a good work environment for teachers, either, and the fact that air conditioning is available in parts of the school office probably does even less for morale.
True, many of us grew up attending school in buildings that lacked air conditioning. However, times have changed. The school year starts earlier than the traditional Tuesday after Labor Day. Extreme heat has becoming a more common occurrence in September of late.
What’s more, almost all of the students and teachers have air conditioning in their homes. They are not as accustomed to sweating it out on hot days as their parents and grandparents probably were.
Installing a chiller at Lincoln would be expensive because the building does not have the necessary infrastructure. The district bid out the work earlier this year, and the low bid came in at more than $1.1 million. The project was put on hold in March, which meant the work could not be done this year.
The electrical system at Lincoln can't handle the load of installing window units in each classroom, previous Superintendent Doug Moeller said in 2016.
If the district can't afford to make Lincoln bearable in extreme heat, perhaps they should get creative. They could devise a plan to house students in other buildings where space is available, either as needed or for the first month of the school year. They could explore scheduling classes and activities in areas that do have air conditioning – vacant classrooms around the district or other spaces.
It might not be ideal, but students and teachers likely would find the unfamiliar and climate-controlled preferable to the familiar and unbearably hot.
Of course, the ideal solution is to install a chiller at Lincoln and bring the building up to par with other district schools. New district Superintendent Jamie Craven has said it should be a priority.
But financial realities are what they are, and with the district’s budget calling for a deficit this year, administrators should not be afraid to offer creative solutions to the problem if the district can't come up with more than $1 million for the project.