District 109 to add air conditioning to all schools
Shepard Middle School's Maintenance Director Steve Kenesie stands by one of the air freshening units that will be replaced with air condtioning units in the next year. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
DEERIFELD — District 109’s Board of Education plans to spend roughly $15 million to have air conditioning units installed and running in all of its schools before the 2014-2015 school year commences.
Board President Ellen London said that she and the board agreed that the new units should first be installed in the district’s schools with two floors; the three schools slated to enjoy an air-conditioned 2013-14 school year are Shepard Middle School and South Park and Wilmot Elementary Schools. The remaining three—Caruso Middle School, Kipling and Walden Elementary Schools—are to have theirs installed the summer before the following school year.
School officials originally hoped that the project would cost around $8 million to $10 million, but decided they would need to pay a higher price for a better result. That result would involve removing the schools’ univents, which are responsible for churning the outdoor air throughout the schools.
“The original proposals all envisioned keeping those, but we decided that we would need to eliminate them (the univents) from the classrooms, which increased the cost,” said Board member Steve Schwartz. “But those univents had to be replaced for several million dollars, which we won’t have to do in the future.”
London said that the district had originally budgeted for the wall units to be replaced within the next five years; but by eliminating the units altogether, they will be able to put the rest of the budgeted amount toward air conditioning.
Another part of the $15 million dollars already accounted for, according to Schwartz, is the cost to upgrade the schools’ electric supply.
“The more technology we have in our classrooms, the more stress there is on our electrical system…we’ve had outages, so we would have had to have upgraded that anyway,” Schwartz said.
London explained that the cost of the project was within the district’s funds, since these cost cutting measures and redirecting of funds would help to minimize the amount needed from the reserves to pay the balance.
School officials, parents, staff and students are excited that the idea of having air conditioning in their schools will soon be brought to fruition, as the conversation has been an ongoing one that only crawled its way onto the school board’s radar within the last two years.
The group of activists that formed in 2011, “Parents Responsibly Organizing for Air Conditioning” (PRO-AC), helped move the board’s conversations on the matter forward, London said.
“They were very helpful in terms of the statistics and research they provided,” London said. “Though we didn’t need much convincing on the need for air conditioning; it was more a matter of ‘is there the engineering to do this, and is it within our financial resources?’”
Deerfield resident and district parent Wendy Apple co-founded the group PRO-AC in 2011 after she and a number of other parents began noticing that the kids and teachers spending time inside the school after Labor Day weekend were getting sick, despite feeling healthy when they played outside in the same hot weather the weekend before.
Apple and like-minded parents had explained to the board that not only did the lack of air conditioning make it more difficult for students to learn and teachers to teach on hot days, but it also intensified asthma.
In 2011, Apple addressed the board to discuss the risks indoor air could have on children when the school buildings are not air conditioned, saying that the Environmental Protection Agency found that indoor air could be 100 times more polluted than outdoor air when temperatures rise. She added that the heat and sunlight essentially cook the air and its chemical compounds, like the dangerous and carcinogenic formaldehyde and radon.
London is eager for the installation project to begin.
“I’m very excited. It’s been a long, long process and it will be nice to see it come to fruition,” she said.