It will likely take eight years to install air conditioning in the five Norwalk Public Schools buildings that don’t have it, NPS Director of Facilities Bill Hodel said Wednesday.
Hodel’s comments came hours after NPS sent students home early from those five schools due to the 90-degree temperature and the “limited air conditioning in their buildings.” Hodel told the Common Council Land Use and Building Management Committee that air conditioning installation hinges on the electrical power available. NPS hopes to qualify for funds in the upcoming second round of the Lamont Administration’s HVAC Indoor Air Quality Grants Program for Public Schools.
NPS send students home two hours early Wednesday from:
- Naramake Elementary School
- Tracey Magnet School
- West Rocks Middle School
- Rowayton Elementary School
- Wolfpit Integrated Arts School
Parents were given a day’s notice and asked to send the kids to school in light clothing, with water to drink.
Hodel reminded the Council members that Norwalk began working on school air conditioning in 2018, with window units and split systems in areas without windows.
In 2018, the late Mike Barbis, then Board of Education Chairman, said 11 schools did not have air conditioning. Since then, school air conditioning has been a regular component of yearly capital budget talks; this year’s capital budget allocates $650,000 to ongoing effort.
NPS Media Relations Specialist Emily Morgan on Wednesday listed four schools that have been recently outfitted for air conditioning:
- Nathan Hale Middle School (2022-23)
- Roton Middle School (2021-22)
- Silvermine Dual Language Magnet School (2020-21)
- Kendall College and Career Academy (2019-20)
That leaves the above listed five schools that closed early Wednesday. In April, Hodel mentioned that West Rocks was being delayed to be included in a “renovate as new” project, which qualifies the work for State reimbursement.
Wednesday’s discussion centered on Nathan Hale.
“We just barely made it in that being we maximized all of the available electric in that building,” Hodel said. The learning spaces are air conditioned, but the auditorium and the gymnasium are not because there’s “simply no additional power available for that.”
Those couldn’t be done without “increasing the power feed from the street through Eversource and adding to or replacing the actual switchgear. So that would have tripled the amount of money needed for this project,” he said.
Nevertheless, Nathan Hale has AC “for the first time ever,” Hodel said. “… Here we are completing a middle school. And students and the teachers certainly feel the benefits this week.”
Stamford Public Schools closed the entire district, as Norwalk used to do, he said.
“This program that began in 2018 is certainly improving the situation,” said Land Use and Building Management Committee Chairwoman Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), a retired teacher. “And you know, I’ve talked about this in this Committee before, you know, I taught in buildings without air conditioning, it’s pretty brutal.”
In June, Smyth said, “We used to walk out of the building feeling like some kind of farm animal, you know, it’s so hot… it’s just a beautiful thing to be comfortable in a school building when everyone can focus on what’s really important.”
On Wednesday, Smyth asked Hodel, “Realistically, how long do you think it’s going to take to finish up these five schools?”
“I’d like to say one a year, but probably not. Seven (years), maybe eight.”
Hodel said the brewing HVAC grant application proposes funding for Naramake and Rowayton “and improvements to existing air conditioning in other schools.”
Updated, 1:24 p.m.: Copyedit; Barbara Smyth worked at Ponus, not Nathan Hale.
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