HONOLULU — The state Department of Education is empowering schools to lead the charge on cooling classrooms using a new process designed to more quickly deploy air conditioning units in buildings that can accommodate the increased energy use.
The Schools Directed AC program enables school leaders to initiate the process by requesting an official electrical assessment from HIDOE’s Office of Facilities and Operations to determine where there is sufficient electrical capacity for AC in classrooms. The assessments are being done under existing heat-abatement contracts using no additional funds.
“The Schools Directed AC program supports our mission to provide equitable and respectful learning environments for all students. It offers a new, streamlined avenue for our schools to cool down classrooms and buildings,” said Christine Shaw, assistant superintendent for the Office of Facilities and Operations.
Once assessments are completed, schools have a range of options to move forward, including starting to budget for the project, partnering with community groups for equipment donations, engaging area lawmakers, or seeking funds through the department’s legislative budget request.
“We have schools that have available funding and equipment donations in the pipeline, and this program allows schools to move forward with that,” Shaw said.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association lauded changes that HIDOE has made that allow for more classrooms to be air conditioned sooner, and for a much lower cost than previous efforts.
“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.”
HIDOE has completed electrical assessments at more than 40 schools since last fall. So far, 200 energy-efficient window AC units have been installed or are in the process of being installed under the Schools Directed AC program at 52 schools statewide. Overall, of the roughly 11,000 HIDOE classrooms in the state, about 6,200 currently have AC.
With additional AC units coming online, the department’s energy consumption continues to be regulated under state law to increase energy conservation and sustainability. HIDOE recently completed a large-scale project to replace 700,000 light bulbs at all Oahu schools with high-efficiency LED bulbs to reduce electrical load. Similar work is underway at Neighbor Island schools.
As part of Gov. David Ige’s 2016 initiative to cool 1,000 classrooms using $100 million appropriated by the state Legislature, the department installed air conditioning units in 1,300 classrooms. Unlike some of the complex, solar-powered systems designed and installed under that initiative, HIDOE is only allowing energy-efficient window AC units under the Schools Directed AC program to help control upfront costs and future maintenance.