Some Heritage Primary School students have been sweating it out for days in near 100-degree temperatures, since some of the school’s air conditioning units are broken. The school year started Monday.
“It’s been gone for a long time,” Principal Maria Cervantes said Wednesday. “We don’t really know what’s wrong with the system.”
The air conditioning is not out in the entire school, but the cafeteria and some classrooms cannot be cooled.
Heritage students are not alone. As the school year begins and hundreds of units are fired up across Lodi Unified School District campuses, common glitches and routine breakdowns are taking place.
Administrators say staff reductions are likely to mean the repairs will take time to complete. In the meantime, employees and students will find ways to cope.
Systems at other schools are not working either, and work orders have already been submitted, according to Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer.
“The number of HVAC-related problems at school start-up is not beyond what normally would be expected,” Assistant Superintendent Art Hand said in an email. He oversees facilities and maintenance.
“Our difficulty in addressing these issues lies in the more than 50-percent reduction in technical personnel the district has been forced to absorb due to budget reductions,” he added.
Repairing units that cool classrooms is the No. 1 priority, he said.
School board trustee Michael Abdallah was at Heritage on Tuesday and saw warm children eating lunch in the cafeteria. He said he called the district’s maintenance and operations office to encourage staff to fix the system as soon as possible, but found they were already working toward a solution.
“I just think they should have checked all of the systems during the summer, before the students returned to school,” Abdallah said.
Nichols-Washer faults the budget and layoffs. Due to cuts, there are now only three technicians districtwide who can work on heating and air conditioning units, and there are more than 1,600 separate units on district property.
However, staffing levels have further been reduced with employee leave, and there are about 800 HVAC units per technician, according to Mitch Slater, the district’s director of maintenance and operations.
There are reports that the air conditioning in two classrooms at Podesta Elementary and the Ansel Adams administration office aren’t working either. A custodian notified the district a week ago, but was told it would be two weeks before it would be fixed, according to an Ansel Adams teacher.
Parklane Elementary and Delta Sierra have also had compromised systems, according to Abdallah.
Tokay High’s English wing is without air, as well, and some teachers are holding fifthand sixth-periods outside, Principal Erik Sandstrom said.
“With the breeze, it has been cooler outside than inside a room with 34 hot bodies and no working AC.”
Although cooler temperatures are expected today, the daytime high in Lodi earlier this week was in the mid-90s. It is expected to be hotter by the end of next week, when temperatures may hit 100 degrees, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting firm.
In a memo, Slater listed which grade levels would receive first priority; high schools are at the bottom, just above administrative offices. The younger grades and special education rank higher.
“Having some of the ACs not working is not new,” Sandstrom said. “With the hundreds within the district, it happens every year when they all get turned on at the same time; some are older, some have a glitch, some lost their programming. It happens.”
A tech was at Heritage on Wednesday to work on the air conditioning, but parts have to be ordered, according to Cervantes.
Meanwhile, teachers are making do, she said.
Fifth-grade teacher Analia Pug is among those who have large fans blowing in their classrooms, and fourth-, fifthand sixth-grade classes are eating lunch outside.
Cervantes said the kitchen staff probably has the worst of it.
“One of the things I’m proud of my faculty for is they’ve got resilience. We make the best with what we’ve got,” she said, adding that staff always encourage students to drink plenty of water.
They are also recommending kids to spend time in the shade during recess.
“I will be making sure it gets fixed,” Abdallah said of Heritage’s air conditioner. “Maintenance and operations is doing as good a job as they can with the staff they have.”
News-Sentinel chief photographer Dan Evans contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.