Students suffocated by a faulty air conditioning system at Modesto school

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At Orchard Elementary, Celina Contreras, with her 3-year-old son David, talks about the school’s air conditioning issues. Photographed in Modesto, Calif. On Tuesday August 29, 2017.

dfarrow@modbee.com

This week’s heatwave is a hardship for students at Orchard Elementary School in Modesto.

The school’s dilapidated air conditioning system is running out of steam and temperatures are high in some classrooms, parents and school officials have said.

More triple-digit time is scheduled for the rest of the week.

Sylvan Union School District superintendent Debra Hendricks said the temperature in some classrooms was in the ’80s, about 10 degrees warmer than what is considered comfortable. She said students in one class were moved to a cooler classroom on Monday. The district did not specify how many classrooms are affected.

Hendricks said fans were brought into the classrooms to try and make the conditions more tolerable. Portable air conditioning units have been considered, but they require a ventilation system.

“The air conditioning works but it doesn’t keep the rooms as cool as we would like,” Hendricks said. “It’s not effective.”

Celina Contreras said on Tuesday that her 5-year-old daughter who attends preschool to fifth grade said it was too hot in her classroom. “It’s hot. They should get it fixed,” Contreras said, expressing concern about her daughter’s asthma.

Another parent said his daughter started to cry when talking about the heat in her classroom. Outdoor physical education has been canceled at Orchard.

The Sylvan school board is due to discuss a plan to replace the air conditioning and heating system at Orchard Elementary on Tuesday evening, although the project would bring no immediate relief to the children this week. This is not the best of circumstances for the school board. The lowest bid from contractors in June was $ 1 million out of the $ 2 million budget for the new system.

The excessive heat would make it difficult for someone to suggest a stimulus process to try and keep the cost down. District staff recommend that council move forward with replacing the HVAC system. Boyer Construction’s lowest bid was just over $ 3 million, with the amount also including exterior paint, roof repairs and cabinet tops.

Parents concerned about classroom conditions at Orchard Elementary should attend Tuesday’s board meeting.

“Our board of directors planned to replace the system and worked diligently to do so,” said Hendricks. “The board of directors will be making the decisions on how we move forward. “

The Superintendent said she could not guarantee a time frame to complete the replacement of the old HVAC system. The work would start as soon as possible, but will likely take months, so it will not provide immediate relief to children.

Hendricks said Monday that a maintenance manager was looking for a temporary solution that could cool the worst classrooms.

The school board will consider a number of financing options for the multi-million dollar replacement project, such as selling $ 6 million of a remaining 2006 bond authorization or a lease.

Staff informed the board that a new bid for the air conditioning and heating project could reduce the cost by $ 100,000 or result in even higher bids. “It is unfortunate that Orchard’s HVAC system is old and needs to be replaced during a period of high construction costs,” says a staff report.

The school’s cooling system was overdue for a replacement, parents said.

“It’s always been a problem,” said Shane Cadlolo, who was a parent volunteer at Orchard five years ago. “It absolutely had to be fixed then. It would be hard for me to concentrate, it was so hot in the classrooms.


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