About 18,000 Columbia students will be in their classrooms Tuesday morning for the first official day of school. With one of the hottest stretches of the year coming up, Columbia Public Schools officials won't have to worry about the health of their students inside buildings. That's because every school will now have some form of air conditioning.
District officials tell ABC 17 News the air conditioning installation is almost complete at West Middle School, but there is still more than a year's worth of work to do at Jefferson Middle School.
District officials said Jefferson will not be without air conditioning altogether. It has cooler air being blown in that is circulating throughout the building. Even though that isn't as good as central air, some said it's worlds better than it was before.
As students and teachers walk out of the West and Jefferson middle schools into the hot sun, it's the first time ever it's not actually a relief. On hot days, temperatures often got above 90 degrees inside the schools. Those days seem to be nearing an end and some teachers said it's a welcomed thought.
“No one's worried about sweating and dehydration and all that. You're just taking care of whatever you do in the school in a normal day, so that's nice,” West Middle School teacher Mike Cranford said.
Cranford has worked at West for the past 11 years. He said work would be miserable by noon because it was so hot. Now, teacher and students can worry about learning and staying focused, rather than staying cool.
Temporary air conditioning has been set up at Jefferson Middle School to make the first few weeks tolerable. It will be cooling off students and teachers for the entire year while the building gets retrofitted for new air conditioning.
“It will certainly be enough to get the air flow going, which is not something we've had in the past there, so we are excited about being able to hopefully have a more mild climate in those buildings,” Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.
Teachers believe this will ultimately lead to an improvement in grades.
“If you don't have early release by 3, not a total waste, but those last two or three hours, you don't accomplish nearly as much,” Cranford said.
Each of these projects cost $3 million. The money came from the 2010 and 2012 voter-approved bonds. District leaders say all the energy-efficient improvements will pay for themselves in six or seven years.
Rock Bridge and New Haven elementary schools will replace the current window units by installing central air. That installation is expected to start next summer.