Edmonton Catholic Schools testing air-cooling system after more hot portable concerns

Click to play video: 'Edmonton parents speak out about how hot portable classrooms can get' Edmonton parents speak out about how hot portable classrooms can get
WATCH ABOVE: With the school year winding down for summer, the temperature inside some Edmonton classrooms is heating up. Kim Smith spoke to a mother who is concerned about how hot some portable classrooms can get – Jun 25, 2018

Just as more parents are expressing concerns with how hot some portable classrooms can get, the Edmonton Catholic School District announced an air-cooling pilot project on Monday.

“With so many hot days, we’ve been concerned with how to continue to provide optimal learning condition,” said Lori Nagy, a spokeswoman with Edmonton Catholic Schools. “They’re especially warm when you get into the modular classrooms because those classrooms have a separate heating system and are not part of the school.”

For several weeks, the district has been working on an air-cooling system for modular classrooms, Nagy said. Over the next few days, they’ll start testing it out in a few of the portables at Bishop David Matiuk Elementary/Junior High School.

“Then we will look at the findings and if the findings are what we expect them to be — in that the air-cooling system will have made a big difference — then we will start to put these in all the Bishop Matiuk classrooms, we’ll phase them in, and then if approved, we’ll be looking at doing all 450 modular classrooms in our district.”

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There are 96 Catholic schools in Edmonton and 450 portables.

If the pilot is successful, the district would use about $700,000 from the infrastructure, maintenance and renewal fund to expand it across all modular classrooms, Nagy said.

“It’s not air-conditioning, I think that’s important to note,” she said. “But it is a system that, if it gets too warm in the classroom, it will automatically come on and just keep it at a comfortable level. It is definitely fairly intensive to get it installed.”

Teri Fechter’s daughter goes to school at Bishop Matiuk. Her Grade 1 class is in a portable and the little girl has not been feeling well when the temperatures rise. On Thursday, she came home feeling ill.

“I had received a phone call from the teacher before she was leaving school to let me know that she had slept through most of the morning in their little quiet area, and that she was crying, she had a headache. She got home [and] she was very flushed, she had a fever about 102 (F), she had a headache, she was feeling nauseous. We gave her some popsicles, she perked up a little bit, went and had another nap.
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Fechter believes the hot classroom is to blame and says other kids are in the same boat.

“My concern is that it’s not just my daughter. There was another girl in her class in the exact same situation — sleeping in the class. She went home early, same symptoms: headache, fever, nausea — she perked up as well… In talking to other parents as well, I know of a couple more children who were at home and had these flu-like symptoms… all Grade 1s that are in the same modular area.”

The learning environment worries her.

“I’m sending them to school, I’m assuming that they’re taken care of. And when they’re coming home sick because they’ve been exposed to this heat, I’m absolutely concerned.

She contacted the teacher and principal about her concerns before all parents received a letter notifying them about the air-cooling pilot project.

“I’m definitely optimistic that they are making steps, finally,” Fechter said. “This is not a new issue. This is not a new thing going on. There’s always been complaints so why has it taken so long to take this step?”

READ MORE: Elementary school teachers union wants province to address excessive heat in schools 

Edmonton Catholic Schools has not discussed the air-cooling pilot project with the province yet but said the funding would not be taken from any classroom money.

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“We are going ahead as a district to do this because we believe it’s a priority. At some point, it would be wonderful if the province decides to fund that,” Nagy said.

She explained the cooling issues came about because of the way newer schools are designed – and how they rely on portables to meet size demands.

“The new designs have a school core that’s built and then we add or take off modular classrooms, which is a great model. Unfortunately, the modular classrooms become very hot in the summer. Of course we have fans but that’s only going to blow around the hot air. So I think it’s just the reality that we’re facing and so we needed a way to deal with it effectively.

“If a child is in a classroom that’s too warm, it’s very difficult to learn.”

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2018: $393M earmarked for 20 new, upgraded schools, 3 in Edmonton

About 95 per cent of Edmonton Catholic schools and about 90 per cent of local public schools do not have air-conditioning, district spokespeople told Global News.

Watch below: Some Edmonton teachers and parents have raised concerns about the temperature inside some local classrooms. The temperatures are soaring in Edmonton and one teacher says students are getting sick. Kendra Slugoski reports.

Click to play video: 'Thermostat shows Edmonton school portable at 29.5 C' Thermostat shows Edmonton school portable at 29.5 C
Thermostat shows Edmonton school portable at 29.5 C – May 24, 2018

Edmonton Public Schools aren’t considering the cooling system their Catholic counterparts are but are doing everything they can to make things comfortable for students, the district told Global News in a statement on Monday.

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“Our district operates on a site-based decision-making model, which means addressing warm classroom temperatures is first done at the school level,” Chris Wright, managing director of infrastructure with EPSB, said.

“Our district infrastructure and school administration teams work together to remedy temperature concerns so students can continue their learning in a comfortable environment.

“Our district is using many of the same methods as other school jurisdictions, like closing windows and blinds, bringing in fans and portable air-conditioning units, using air-handling units overnight to reduce temperatures and relocating students to cooler areas of the school.”

READ MORE: Thermostat shows Edmonton school portable at 29.5 C Thursday

A photo taken in an Edmonton public school portable during a recent hot stretch showed a thermostat measuring a temperature of 28.5 C. The photo was taken at around 9 a.m. on May 24. By approximately 2 p.m., the thermostat read 29.5 C.

Some local teachers say when the heat sets in, it can be stifling, especially in portables or “pods” attached to the main buildings of some P3 schools (projects built using a public-private parnership funding model).

“We have seen an increase in students complaining of headaches, lightheadedness, vomiting, nose bleeds, asthma attacks, etc.,” the teacher said.

READ MORE: Alberta government scraps P3 funding model for new schools

After the May heat, Alberta Education contacted the four metro boards to see if they were receiving reports of hot classrooms. Staff were advised the jurisdiction was doing its best to manage during hot conditions, like moving classes outdoors or rescheduling activities.

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“During periods with high temperatures such as these, the safety of students and staff is of paramount importance,” Education Minister David Eggen said in a statement on Monday.

“School authorities are responsible for the operations of maintenance of schools once they’re built, or modules once they are installed.

“When I first learned of this situation, I asked the department to look into how school boards are working to accommodate students in these hot conditions. My staff have spoken to school authorities, who are working hard to accommodate students by moving classes to other areas of the school, utilizing fans and having cold water available.

“We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that students and staff are being provided with safe environments conducive to learning.”

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