2017-06-16 / Front Page

Oxnard Union school district looks at ways to beat the heat

Shades, fans offer most economicalfix
By Hector Gonzalez


SKY’S THE LIMIT—Installing air conditioners at Oxnard Union High School District’s 11 campuses would be too expensive. Instead, the district is moving forward with a plan to invest $150,000 for new fans and shades in preparation for fall when temperatures could soar again. SKY’S THE LIMIT—Installing air conditioners at Oxnard Union High School District’s 11 campuses would be too expensive. Instead, the district is moving forward with a plan to invest $150,000 for new fans and shades in preparation for fall when temperatures could soar again. Two years ago, Oxnard Union High School District board members decided to take a hard look at how excessive heat affects learning at the district’s 11 high schools and what can be done to help keep students and teachers cooler when temperatures spike.

Now board members have approved final recommendations for keeping classrooms cooler next school year—and it’s back to fans and shade. Air conditioners, according to officials, would be far too expensive for the district.

Although “we’re having a blessedly cool end of the school year,” Oxnard Union consultant Jeff Baarstad said, the district should invest $150,000 on new fans and shades in preparation for fall when temperatures could soar again.

That’s a very good likelihood, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which reported that 16 of the 17 warmest years since 1880 “have all occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998.” Last year was the warmest on record, NASA reported. Those numbers align with findings by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To beat the heat, OUHSD should purchase 845 floor fans and some 16,500 square feet of roll-up window shades to help cool 112 of the district’s hottest classrooms, Baarstad told the school board June 7.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the purchases, which represent the final step the district will take—for now—to address the heat issue.

The ideal solution would be for OUHSD to buy air conditioning for all its campuses, but that would cost between $40 million and $50 million, Baarstad said.

“And the costs wouldn’t end there,” he said. “Your energy costs would go up dramatically. You’d probably end up having to hire at least two air conditioning techs to maintain the system.”

Before making any blanket investment in air conditioning, Baarstad said, the district should prioritize campuses in traditionally hotter zones. Temperatures at Oxnard High, for example, are typically 10 to 20 degrees cooler than at Adolfo Camarillo and Rancho Campana high schools farther inland in Camarillo, he said.

“There are days where Oxnard High school is 70 degrees and Camarillo High is 90 degrees, so if you’re going to look at air conditioning, I think you’d want to do Camarillo and Rancho Campana first,” he said.

Over-heated classrooms became a serious concern for the school board in October 2015. At a meeting that month, students, teachers and parents complained that students were nodding off in class on hot days and teachers were having a hard time keeping kids focused.

In response, school board members in November 2015 created a 30-member ad hoc committee of parents, students, teachers and administrators to look at possible solutions. In April 2016, the committee reported back to the board with recommendations that OUHSD should invest in more shade trees, blackout curtains, fans and other short-term solutions to beat the heat.

But the board took additional steps as well. Last September, the school board approved a heat policy, giving Superintendent Penelope DeLeon the authority to declare a heat day and cancel classes if the weather becomes too warm.

A heat day could be declared if the forecast calls for two consecutive days of 95-degree (or hotter) weather in a particular city, according to the policy.

Short of declaring a heat day, which is the last option in the policy’s list of heatstroke precautions, teachers and principals can employ a number of measures to keep kids cool, including adjusting blinds, doors and windows and using fans to maximize air circulation.

Above all, campuses must provide water on hot days. The policy recommends that students bring their own water bottles. The containers can’t hold more than 32 ounces and must have a pressure seal, screw-on or pop-up cap, or a lid with a straw.

Since OUHSD doesn’t have tens of millions of dollars to invest in air-conditioning at its schools, Baarstad said, officials determined that “the next best thing that could be done is provide shade or protective windows.”

Maintenance staff worked with school principals and identified 112 classrooms with northwest facing windows exposed directly to sunlight as the hottest classes in the district. Each room will receive roll-up window shades.

The shades “completely block out a classroom and reflect sunlight,” Baarstad said. They’re easy to use and are made to last several years, he said.

In addition, all 11 campuses will receive “good commercial” floor fans, he said.

“This is not a perfect solution,” Baarstad said. “But in combination with the new heat policy, it’s the best effort this board can make” in tackling hot classrooms.

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