DENVER - Ed Huszcza may not be "The Fonz", but he is trying to be the king of cool for Denver Public Schools. He is a project manager trying various ways to get the hot air out and the cooler air in.
"The actuator opens on this ventilator and allows us to pull cooler air from the outside," Huszcza said. "Hopefully, what that will do is it will keep the school cooler for a lot longer during the day than it had been in the past without it."
Over the past few years, classroom temperatures have soared into the 90's making it difficult for students and teachers. As a result, the district tried several things. Starting last year, it pushed the school start back by two weeks hoping to minimize the number of hot school days. DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes says last year it worked. This year, it didn't.
"I think on balance it will work out over time, but I think there will be some years when we will still get some hot temperatures," Suppes said.
Last year, voters approved a record $466 million bond issue for building improvements. Some of that money, $25 million, is being used specifically on cooling measures at schools across the city.
"Moving air through the buildings in some cases using an existing air handling equipment and some evaporative cooling, insuring we had operable windows and obviously a lot of good procedures around how do you do things to maintain as much cool as you can in the buildings," Suppes said.
Nearly half of the 150 schools in DPS do not have air conditioning. With many buildings at 100 years old or more, Huszcza says, putting air conditioning systems in these buildings is not feasible.
"You're almost down to a situation where you'd be tearing half of the school down just to go ahead and make that work," Huszcza said.
Instead, large 7-foot tall swamp coolers are being placed in school hallways. Large exhaust fans have been placed on school rooftops to expel the hot air. And, the district has employed a common sense approach of opening windows and using box fans to keep classrooms from getting over heated.
"We have staff coming in at 5:00 in the morning to basically open up the buildings and move as much as air as we can, so we can start the day cool," Suppes said.
The district has a policy enacted last year that allows principals to call impromptu early release days with 24-hours notice to send students home before the blistering afternoon sun. Suppes says he knows that can be a hardship for parents, but safety comes first.
"Later in the day, the buildings get hot," Suppes said. "We think the procedures are making a difference as well as improvements to the buildings. But, some of the buildings are certainly still getting uncomfortable."
Across the Midwest, a heat wave is forcing schools to close with classroom temperatures approaching 100 degrees. Huszcza says he can keep the classrooms down around 80 degrees.
"I would like it to be a little cooler," Huszcza said.
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