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Flint, MI— Some Flint Community Schools buildings do not have central air conditioning, creating sweltering conditions for students and staff, officials say.
Though HVAC company Johnson Controls is currently installing air, the project won’t be complete until December.
The Board of Education called for short-term solutions during a board meeting Aug. 18. They also voted to cancel school on Aug. 19. The vote passed 5-2 with Vice President Vera Perry and Trustee Diana Wright absent.
Marla Settle, an attendant agent at Brownell STEM Academy, asked board members for help.
“I’m here today because our children are suffering from the heat. When I say that, I say that with all sincerity. Our building is extremely hot. I went around today with paper towels with ice from a freezer to cool the babies off. They were in the hallway, cheeks as red as Mr. Walker’s shirt. We had students in the nurse’s office with headaches, throwing up, dizziness because of the heat,” Settle said.
Trustee Adrian Walker echoed Settle’s concerns.
“Today, I had a chance to spend some time at Brownell and Holmes and, I’m speaking quite frankly, again, it’s something that we already know but it doesn’t make it okay, in terms of how unbearable it is within the schools given the airflow, especially everything we’re dealing with in COVID times. I’ve talked to a number of teachers and also parents who share those with serious concerns about those conditions,” Walker said.
Administration has been working to devise an immediate plan, but every idea thus far has been met with “roadblocks” due to the buildings’ poor conditions, Superintendent Anita Steward said.
“Every time we get one thought, we come up with a roadblock. Because whether it’s the buildings and how old they are, that’s not going to work. We get another thought and we come up with another roadblock. We have been working through this since last week nonstop and we’re going to continue to work through this,” Steward said.
Walker and other board members said window and portable air conditioners caused the classrooms to blow circuits due to the buildings’ outdated electrical wiring.
“I feel like teachers had to almost prioritize whether or not they were going to turn on the air, blow their smartboard, or use their fan. But even when they use the fan, they have a mask on and it’s hard to hear,” Walker said.
Secretary Danielle Green made a motion to discuss revising the balanced calendar year with the unions so that students do not have to attend school during the hottest months of the year. The motion passed 5-2.
Michigan law allows school districts to cancel up to six days of instruction per school year without penalty. Snow days and heat days count towards this time.
Since school began Aug. 4, the district has cancelled classes twice due to the heat. Additionally, the first three days of school did not have 75% attendance, Steward said, meaning that those days did not count as instruction time under Michigan law.
One “forgivable” day remains for Flint Schools. The district may seek an additional three days with approval from the State Superintendent, according to Michigan law.
If the district exceeds the number of “forgivable” days, they will be required to make up the time in order to meet the minimum 1,089 instructional hours and 180 days required by the state to receive funding.
Steward said she would speak with the Michigan Department of Education to explore their options.
Daniel Mack, energy solutions account executive for Johnson Controls, updated board members on the progress of the air installation at the Aug. 18 meeting.
The company was contracted in 2018 to make necessary updates to the buildings. The original $19 million project scope included taking Flint Junior High, formerly Northwestern, out of service.
However, due to funding issues, the board voted Sept. 2020 to keep Northwestern operating so that air could be installed in eight school buildings.
Mack said they will meet the original deadline of Dec. 2021, but they had hoped to complete the project sooner. However, the buildings’ conditions and the pandemic prevented them from accelerating the work.
“We’re putting air conditioning in a building, some of them 60 years old, that were not intended to have air conditioning. So, it’s not like we’re replacing air conditioning, we’re actually having to install all of the components required for air conditioning in the classrooms and in the offices,” Mack said.
He also said that the labor and manufacturing shortages caused by COVID-19 has affected progress
“There’s a pretty significant strain on equipment and labor right now. Thankfully, we’re using our own labor for much of it, which has helped. But to get the equipment, you’re fighting with everyone else in the country to get this equipment,” Mack said.
Recently, the company poured concrete pads on which the outdoor air conditioning units will sit. The district is now tasked with installing fencing around the pads as a security measure.
“We want to do the best thing for these kids. We’ve had guys working weekends and nights in some cases,” Mack said, “We had guys really bending over backwards to try to get this stuff done, but there’s some things that are just out of our control.”