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Where's the AC? Fresno Unified Students, Teachers Feel the Heat

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Young children cooling off in front of air conditioner.
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Air conditioning continues to be a hot-button issue for Fresno Unified School District, which has grappled with about 800 requests for service since the start of the school year Aug. 19.
For those classrooms and other spaces without operating air conditioning, the first 13 days were sweltering. The National Weather Service recorded triple-digit temperatures in Fresno on seven of those days, and an average daily high temperature of 99 degrees since school started.
The hottest day was Aug. 27, when the mercury climbed to 105 degrees.

Systems Get Tested Before School Starts

Karin Temple, chief operating officer for facilities management and planning for Fresno Unified, said in an email to GV Wire that all air conditioning systems and units are turned on two weeks before the start of the school year to make sure they are operating properly, and repaired if they are not.
“Some issues are not known until classrooms are fully occupied with students and teachers,” she said. “In other cases, unexpected mechanical failures occur due to normal wear and tear.”

(GV Wire/Alexis DeSha)

Hundreds of Service Requests Yet to Go

As of Thursday, 600 of the requests for service had been completed, Temple said. They ranged from a warm or nonfunctioning AC unit to a central plant or system failure, she said.

Trustee Terry Slatic

Eight hundred service requests are typical for the start of the school year, she said.
They may be typical, but they’re also “utterly unacceptable,” trustee Terry Slatic said. He reiterated his call for Superintendent Bob Nelson and his staff to turn off their air conditioning until all classrooms have functioning AC.
He also contends that school employees need better training in how to track work orders. Slatic said he’s working with northwest Fresno schools on this issue.

Maintenance and Repair Work Always Ongoing

The district’s technicians perform work year-round to maintain air conditioning and heating systems, including working on projects to repair and replace aging equipment, Temple said.
At a special meeting in January to set priorities for using Measure X funds, trustee Carol Mills said that providing air conditioning districtwide was an equity issue. Measure X, a $225 million bond for school improvements, was passed by voters in 2016.
Measure X funds are being used to replace or upgrade HVAC equipment, Temple said. The district has designated $10 million annually from Measure X for deferred maintenance projects, including air conditioning, she said.
Slatic vowed at the January meeting to turn off the air conditioning in his own home until the issue was resolved. He said Friday that he’s made good on his vow, at least during the daytime. He acknowledged that at night he turns on the AC because he figures students are home by then and not subject to the district’s cooling systems.

District Could Look at AC Retrofits for Buses

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Mills brought up the topic of school buses that lack air conditioning. She said that, given the many years that buses remain in service, the district could consider adding AC to those that have been manufactured over the past 15 years and that are expected to remain in service for some time.

Temple told GV Wire on Thursday that 12 of the district’s 59 buses that lack air conditioning are 15 years or older. Buses are replaced either when they wear out or do not meet state requirements, or when grant money is available for replacements, she said.
“The district aggressively seeks grant funding for replacement buses,” Temple said.
The district had previously reported that the cost of retrofitting older buses with AC could be as much as $25,000 per bus.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email