School AC behind schedule

LIHUE — Only 16 percent of classrooms on Kauai have air-conditioning, and that figure isn’t going to change until next year.

Gov. David Ige announced earlier this year in his 2016 State of the State Address that the state would provide 1,000 classrooms with air-conditioning units.

There are some schools that have priority over others due to temperatures and necessity for immediate facility upgrades, but according to a recent project update, not one classroom on Kauai will be receiving an AC unit as part of this project for the rest of the year.

“At this stage, it doesn’t look like it,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, director of the communications and community Affairs Office for the Hawaii Department of Education.

“Right now, Kauai does not fall in this priority list. We don’t want to just shove air-conditioning everywhere. Some schools are located in cooler areas and that’s the case with Kauai. But not every school will need air-conditioning.”

Kauai is “ahead of the game” when it comes to PV/AC (photovoltaic air-conditioning) said Dela Cruz, but classrooms are still hot, and need to be cooled down for the sake of the students.

On May 24, Kekaha Elementary’s bid for air-conditioning was rejected, according to HIDOE, but others remain in the bidding process.

“Kekaha Elementary received enough portable AC units for four classrooms during the 2015-16 school year,” said Lindsay Chambers of the HIDEO’s Communication and Community Affairs Office. “Kekaha Elementary, Waimea High and Waimea Canyon are currently in the bidding process.”

Marilyn Asahi, principal at Kekaha Elementary, said her priority is taking care of her students and making sure that they are in the right environment to learn. Installing AC units in classrooms is apart of that process.

“We have four classrooms with portable AC units,” Asahi said. “We’re hoping to have all buildings except for Building H, the main portion of cafeteria, Building B and Building E with AC by June of next year.”

Installation may be done in January, Asahi said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll get a bid accepted by the state,” she said.

Out of the 650 classrooms at schools in the Kapaa, Kauai and Waimea districts, 105 classrooms have AC.

“We still have to follow the pertinent state laws,” Dela Cruz said.

“The bids (for AC) came back really high and that set us back. We needed to do this right and not just take the first bidder. We had to meet and discuss the plan after that.”

There have been delays due to the number of bids, budgetary concerns and infrastructure of some schools, as the majority of Hawaii schools are over 50 years old, according to HIDOE’s Heat Abatement Status update.

HIDOE is also having trouble finding contractors to take on the workload, according to Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for the Office of School Facilities and Support Services.

But it’s clear the state will be “nowhere near the 1,000 goal” at the end of the year, Dela Cruz said.

As of Oct. 18, only 26 classrooms across the state have installed AC units from this project while another 432 units are currently under construction or still in the bidding process, according to the HIDOE.

Kekaha Elementary is the only Kauai school on the HIDOE’s priority list, ranking 31 out of 33 in the state.

While Kauai schools were deemed low priority for AC installation, two classrooms at Eleele, King Kaumualii and Kalaheo elementary schools each received ceiling fans and four classrooms at Wilcox received ceiling fans after they fell into the “Immediate Response” category of the HIDOE’s Heat Abatement Status.

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