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Kyle Potter, Published August 26 2013

Extended heat wave bad news for students at 10 metro schools without full air conditioning

FARGO – Tuesday’s steamy weather is expected to extend into next week, and that’s bad news for students at the 10 area schools without full air-conditioning systems.

Six Fargo public elementary schools don’t have the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems that pump cool air throughout the building, and three of them have no air conditioning at all. None of Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton’s four public schools are fully air-conditioned.

All Moorhead and West Fargo schools have HVAC systems.

The high temperatures forecast for the first half of the week led Fargo public school officials to cancel classes through Wednesday at five elementary schools without air-conditioning systems: Roosevelt, Horace Mann, McKinley, Lewis and Clark and Clara Barton.

Madison Elementary is staying open by juggling its students to some of its air-conditioned spaces.

What do those six schools have in common? At an average age of 80, they’re among the oldest buildings in the school district. Schools with HVAC systems are 43 years old, on average.

“Some older schools may not lend themselves as well to updating with an HVAC,” but each building’s existing air ducts and size are also factors, said district business manager Broc Lietz.

The School Board is currently weighing which updates to make at the six area schools as part of its 10-year plan for facilities.

A full HVAC retrofitting could cost between $2.5 million and nearly $4 million for each school, according to estimates outlined last month by the School Board. That won’t be necessary at schools like Madison Elementary, which, thanks to wall and window units, already had enough space to keep doors open this week.

As the district considered closing schools due to the heat, Principal Bobby Olson felt Madison had enough cool space to make it through the hot week.

Temperatures peaked at 93 degrees in Fargo Monday, and Olson said the day went smooth. Thanks to smaller enrollment numbers, he was able to move students around so that everyone was in one of their air-conditioned rooms. He pushed gym and music classes into a classroom, and canceled recess.

“I’d rather not have that heat here, but we did OK,” Olson said.

Lietz said the board will likely approve spending between $8 million and $12 million to update cooling systems at Madison and the other five schools without full air-conditioning systems. The board will discuss its long-term facility plan again in early September.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton school officials did a round of renovations in 2004 and again in 2007 that brought some air-flow improvements, Superintendent Bryan Thygeson said. Still, none have full HVAC systems.

He said it’s too early to tell whether D-G-F will need to cancel classes next week. School is scheduled to begin on Sept. 3.

The heat is new territory for Thygeson.

“We’ve been fairly fortunate since I’ve been here. We haven’t had too many hot, humid stretches when we’ve had students in the buildings,” he said.

The late-summer heat affected other schools in the region, which took precautions to avoid dangerous conditions for teachers and students.

Minneapolis students had to go to school all day Monday, but administrators canceled after-school activities and distributed 750 cases of water to schools. Officials also sent industrial fans to the 18 buildings that lack air conditioning, according to The Associated Press.

In South Dakota, the Sioux Falls School District continued with classes as scheduled, but the district said teachers kept window blinds closed and turned off lights in classrooms. The district was also prepared to move students into cooler rooms at nearby churches and a Christian school.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502