Air conditioning in school is a hot button topic

As warm temperatures arrive, school officials are reaching for the switch to turn on air conditioners. Fans may do the trick for a little while, but eventually, as studies show, the humidity and heat will begin to impact their productivity.

State Rep. Joan Meschino, a Hull Democrat, and Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Weymouth Republican, are cosponsoring legislation to create a commission to study minimum and maximum allowable air temperatures in public school classrooms and facilities. State regulations say that classroom temperatures must be between 68 and 80 degrees.

Their bill would also require the commission to assess the number of air conditioned public schools in the state (some classrooms have only fans), those facilities’ processes for installing air conditioning or heating upgrades, and indoor air quality.

O’Connor testified that classrooms are not meeting regulations before the Joint Committee on Education earlier this week. Members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association Health and Safety Committee, the Hull Teachers Association, and the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health also spoke.

Schools in Cohasset, Hingham, and Hull have brought attention to heat and air conditioning in the past.

Hingham has sought state money to rebuild or renovate the 67-year-old Foster School, where the school’s heat, power, and air conditioning are all controlled through a 1951 electrical gear-switch apparatus. Other schools balance sending kids home for snow days with the reality of having them stay longer into the summer in non-air-conditioned buildings. Meschino told the Patriot Ledger she believes programs don’t exist to help schools install and maintain air conditioning units.

“I think that’s an example of the changing environment around us,” she said. “Climate change is real and as we start to see more extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, these are the kinds of questions we need to think about and we need to make sure money is available to address these kinds of problems.”

It’s a multi-pronged issue of making sure that, first, schools have air conditioning, second, that those air conditioners are reliably functioning, and third, that they take into account energy efficiency and impact on climate. That’s a hard thing to do for large buildings that rely on public funding.

Take, for example, a building the size of Quincy High School, which is about 330,000 square feet. A state-of-the-art HVAC system was included when the school was built in the late 2000s.

The school retro-commissioned its HVAC units in 2015, a process that improves the energy efficiency of existing equipment. But with over 1,800 public schools across the Commonwealth, making sure they all have this level of quality and consideration for climate change may be difficult and expensive.

The Daily Times Chronicle recently wrote that the Burlington school district’s master plan estimated costs to upgrade its HVAC systems would be approximately $12 million. The district has unsuccessfully submitted a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority seven times, with hopes that this project would be partially funded.

But in the long run, it may be worth the time, effort, and cost.

Back in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program wrote that for a typical 100,000-square-foot school, retro-commissioning could yield, on average, about $10,000 to $16,000 in annual energy savings.

SARAH BETANCOURT


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration’s lax oversight of Department of Conservation and Recreation property leases comes with consequences, particularly for a volunteer friends group trying to maintain the Paragon Carousel in Hull. (CommonWealth)

The Senate passed a distracted driving bill unanimously, setting the stage for negotiations with the House over how to monitor whether racial profiling is occurring. (CommonWealth

Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School says MassBIO’s complaints about Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to rein in pharmaceutical spending don’t add up. (CommonWealth) Amy Rosenthal of Health Care for All says pharmaceutical companies are entitled to a profit, but not unchecked profits at the expense of patients. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Raul Fernandez, the first Latino elected to the Brookline Select Board, is part of a movement trying to change how the town deals with race, and the first big step was approving an official apology to a firefighter who sued over allegations of racism. (WBUR)

Mayor Marty Walsh is deploying a longtime City Hall official to be a special advisor focusing on issues along “Methadone Mile,” the area near Boston Medical Center known for its concentration of recovery service programs. (Boston Globe)

SSTAR has submitted a second application for a building permit to construct an $11.7 million drug treatment facility in the North End after being denied by the Fall River Zoning Board of Appeals. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Three quarters of the country wants the US Supreme Court to uphold the right to abortion, but 61 percent is in favor of some specific restrictions on the medical procedures, according to a NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Gov. Charlie Baker gives the goods to the esteemed longtime dean of the Beacon Hill press corps, former Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, and acknowledges that he is considering running for a third term. Political types have been whispering that around town for several months. (Boston Globe)

Scot Lehigh wonders whether a Marty Walsh endorsement of Joe Biden — and snub of the state’s senior senator, Elizabeth Warren — lies ahead. (Boston Globe)

Vice News peeks behind the curtains at Congressman Seth Moulton’s presidential campaign and his decision to publicly share his experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, which stems from his time leading troops in combat.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report from Moody’s Investor Service says the Massachusetts economy is particularly vulnerable to hurricane flooding because so much of the state’s economic activity is concentrated in flood zones. (CommonWealth)

Soaring rents are leading to lots of storefront vacancies in usually bustling Harvard Square. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The state’s 72 private colleges and universities will all take part in a one-year pilot program designed to gauge the fiscal health of schools and avoid abrupt, unexpected closures. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Vaira Harik, senior project manager with the Barnstable County Department of Human Service says that the area is seeing trends outlined in a new study led by Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction. The assessment found that opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts increasingly involve multiple substances. (Cape Cod Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

Gus Rancatore made knotweed sorbet, showcasing the invasive but nutritious plant in a dessert for an event called Futurefood, which was part of an art exhibit at Cambridge City Hall. (WBUR)

Take Me Out to the Ball Game was written from the perspective of a baseball-loving woman in an era when women weren’t welcome in ballparks. (WGBH)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A developer in Lynn is using concrete block mats to protect the shoreline from wave erosion. (Daily Item)

Over the past two years, ecologist Brooks Mathewson has released 80 Eastern red-backed salamanders into Mount Auburn Cemetery where their appetite for bugs may help curb carbon emissions. (WGBH)

 CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Retail recreational pot sales could soon be starting in Brockton, after a City Council subcommittee voiced approval for In Good Health, which has been operating only as a dispensary for medical marijuana patients. (The Enterprise)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Globe editorial echoes the call of a recent Supreme Judicial Court opinion for a better system of post-trial evidence storage in cases throughout the state.

MEDIA

Staffers at New England Public Radio raise concerns about their independence in new corporate relationship with WGBH. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Vox Media staffers stage a one-day walkout to pressure the company to sign a union contract. (Bloomberg)

Arguing that ignoring hate is no longer a viable strategy, the Eagle-Tribune editorializes in favor of demonstrations like one held Wednesday in Peabody to counter recent acts of anti-Semitism.

The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism celebrates four years as a purveyor of independent journalism.