COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–Some students in Columbus will be welcomed back to class later this month with new air conditioning systems. Still, more than a dozen Columbus City School buildings will be without central cooling.
While the money has been allocated to install a new HVAC system in every building, school district officials say it will take another year before every building’s system is up and running.
This summer marks the end of a five-year project called Operation Fix It, bringing central air and other overdue upgrades to 64 of the city’s legacy school buildings, which were built in the 1960s.
Rhonda T.’s son attends Mifflin High School, which received a new HVAC system under Operation Fix It, but she recalls the challenges of his un-air-conditioned school days.
“My son would come home, beet red in the face, and for 20 minutes straight just chug water,” Rhonda said, declining to share her last name.
Voters approved the $125 million bond issue funding Operation Fix It in 2016, but Capital Improvements Director Alex Trevino said the bond wasn’t enough to cover air conditioning for every building.
According to Trevino, outfitting an HVAC system for a school could cost anywhere between $1 million and $5 million, depending on the size and layout of the building.
Now, thanks to federal pandemic relief dollars from the CARES Act, Columbus City Schools has $44 million in Elementary and Second School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds allocated for install central air conditioning in the remaining 16 schools:
- Columbus Alternative HS
- Johnson Park MS
- Mifflin MS
- Yorktown MS
- Woodward Park at Walden MS
- Westmoor MS
- Fairwood ES
- Broadleigh ES
- Colerain ES
- Como ES
- Maize ES
- North Linden ES
- Valleyview ES
- West Broad ES
- Westgate ES
- Hubbard ES
Trevino said those projects are on track to be complete by the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
“I think what people oftentimes don’t understand is just how much planning and how much design and contracting goes into getting those projects actually put in place,” Trevino said, telling NBC4 that Columbus City Schools is in the contracting phase for the remaining 16 schools.
Additionally, crews are unable to perform much of the installation work while class is in session.
“We have to keep the existing systems online, so we want to make sure that existing ventilation system is always providing that fresh air, so we can’t take those existing systems offline,” Trevino said. “And then the work is just noisy, and it’s dirty and disruptive.”
Columbus City Schools has had to cancel school in previous years do the heat. District officials, like Trevino, look forward to putting those days behind them.
“I think the bottom line would be the best thing we could do for our students and staff and families is to make sure we have these mechanical systems … that can keep the temperature consistent inside regardless of what’s going on outside,” Trevino said.
Operation Fix It provided schools with more than new HVAC systems. You can track the progress of Operation Fix It projects; which include safety, plumbing, electrical and other upgrades; using this Columbus City Schools dashboard.