Flint Board of Education Fights for Air Conditioning in Schools Amid Funding Constraints

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Flint, MI — The Flint Community Schools Board of Education will vote Sept. 16 on a revised project proposal that would install central air conditioning in eight buildings but keep Flint Junior High, formerly Northwestern, operational despite the building being closed to students.

The vote comes after the board learned about a $6.6 million reduction in funding for a $19 million district-wide repair project.

Former Superintendent Derrick Lopez had been working with the State of Michigan to obtain an added $6.6 million for air conditioning which was not received, Steward said

FCS secured funding through a $14 million bond, with an additional $1 million contribution from the district’s sinking fund for building repairs, Superintendent Anita Steward said.

The original contract with Johnson Controls, the district’s HVAC company, included air conditioning installation, boiler updates, new lighting, energy conservation and envelope building repairs in Doyle-Ryder Elementary, Eisenhower Elementary, Brownell STEM Academy, Freeman Elementary, Holmes STEM Middle School Academy, Neithercut Elementary, Pierce Elementary, Potter Elementary and the Administration Building

A portion of these funds were allocated to “laying up” Northwestern, meaning that the building would be safely boarded up and taken out of service.

The situation is compounded by the fact that the district’s central kitchen is housed inside Northwestern. Laying up Northwestern would cost $1.3 million not including the expense of a firewall to separate the kitchen from the rest of the building.

“With having a reduction in funding, what we’re trying to do is figure out what projects were most important,” Carrie Sekelsky, FCS executive director of finance, said.

Sekelsky worked with Johnson Controls and Steward to identify three project proposals that would keep air conditioning in some school buildings but not others while laying up parts of Northwestern not in use.

Board members expressed outrage that some schools may not receive air conditioning as promised due to the decrease in funds.

Air conditioning in Flint Schools has been a growing issue since the district adopted a balanced calendar in 2018, meaning students attend school all year round.

“We all know our buildings are drafty and cold in the wintertime and hot and steamy in the summertime,” Trustee Blake Strozier said. “Every child in this district deserves air conditioning…that’s a God-given right, to be comfortable.”

Another option Sekelsky proposed was to move central kitchen out of Northwestern entirely. The suggestion was met with strong opposition from the board.

“We already put $1 million or more into that kitchen. I am not going to be embarrassed anymore by moving that kitchen,” Trustee Vera Perry said.

Ultimately, all three proposals were rejected, and discussion was postponed until a special board meeting which took place Monday.

During the meeting, the board proposed a “hybrid approach,” which will go to an official vote on Wednesday. If passed, all buildings will receive central air conditioning and the district will continue to operate Northwestern as is and incur utility costs, an estimated $200,000 a year, Sekelsky said.

However, due to the state of the building’s pipes, keeping Northwestern open presents “catastrophic” risks, Energy Solutions Account Executive at Johnson Controls Daniel Mack told board members. If the pipes burst, the building will be unusable, Mack said.

“We will hope and pray that there’s no catastrophic event at Northwestern in the next six months. Then, next year, once we get back our federal funding, then we can choose to lay the building up at that point,” President Casey Lester said.

Board members present at the special board meeting, Treasurer Danielle Green, Secretary Betty Ramsdell, Perry, and Lester unanimously agreed to move the proposal to the regular board meeting for a vote.

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