Air Conditioning Issues Plague SAISD Schools Less Than a Week Into New Year

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Lanier High School on the city's near Westside. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Lanier High School on the city's near West Side had issues with air conditioning.

Less than three days into the 2019-20 new school year, 40 San Antonio Independent School District campuses reported problems with air conditioning units amid triple-digit temperatures.

SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said at a press briefing Wednesday that for the most part, small sections of those schools were affected and in 90 percent of cases, students could be moved to a different part of the building where units were functioning properly.

Martinez pointed to intense August heat and old air conditioning units as the reason for the outages. In his four previous school years in SAISD, Martinez said he saw worse air conditioning outages.

“We have some of the oldest, outdated systems in the county,” Martinez said, adding that some of the chillers were installed in 1990. The superintendent said the life span of a chiller is normally about a decade or 15 years.

The district will deploy 144 mobile air conditioning units into classrooms to cool individual rooms, Martinez said. The problems were at their worst on Monday, when outdoor temperatures reached 105 degrees.

Educators, parents, and students from Fox Tech, Sam Houston, Lanier, Brackenridge, and Burbank High Schools all reported problems with air conditioning, according to members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel.

Students at the Fox Tech campus held class at San Antonio College on Wednesday, and students elsewhere in the district were moved into different sections of their buildings to work around the problem.

Fox Tech campus students will be at San Antonio College for class on Thursday and are expected to return back to campus Friday.

The district’s teachers union reported problems to administration at Sam Houston High School last week, before school began, said Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel.

“This is one of the challenges of starting school earlier and earlier and earlier every year,” Potter said. “Those of us who have been in San Antonio a long time know that August is always the hottest month of the year and that we can expect tons of days in a row over 100 degrees.”

Money from SAISD’s 2016 bond will fund updates to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems at Lanier, Sam Houston, Fox Tech, and Brackenridge high schools. Construction is in progress on these campuses, but not yet complete.

“[They are] schools that were either built or air-conditioned out of the 1968 bond program,” said Kamal ElHabr, SAISD’s associate superintendent of construction services, of the 2016 bond projects during a September 2018 interview. “Those were kind of the first schools in this district that were air-conditioned and we still have most of the air-condition[ing systems] that are 40 years old. … When you walk through those facilities, those are the oldest kitchens in the building, the oldest plumbing.”

SAISD is expected to seek approval for a bond in 2020 that will finance future needs. The district has already identified a list of about 40 campuses that could benefit from bond projects. The list includes pre-World War II buildings that had air conditioning installed in the late 1980s, ElHabr said.

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