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Hawaii schools get more air conditioners in record hot year

Education officials in Hawaii are hoping some portable air conditioners will cool the state’s sweltering classrooms.

They’re installing about 250 of the devices as fast as they can, said Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent for the Department of Education.

They bought the entire available supply of portable air conditioners from their approved retailer in Hawaii and on the West Coast, but Carlson said he believes another 450 units might be available soon.

Requests were pouring in from principals who want air conditioners in their schools to battle higher temperatures at a time when cooling trade winds are declining. Honolulu high temperatures have broken records 25 times in the past year, and many classrooms often surpass 90 degrees.

“We’re handling this like an emergency, very similar to what we did, for example, when lava was approaching our school on the island of Hawaii,” Carlson said.

At a Board of Education meeting Tuesday — held in an air conditioned conference room — Carlson said the electrical systems in some schools just won’t be able to handle the portable air conditioners. They’re working through a long list of electrical upgrades.

“Over 50 percent of our schools are over 50 years old,” Carlson said. “Obviously our electrical requirements have changed drastically over the last couple of years.”

The department is spending at least $15 million on current electrical upgrade projects but has a backlog of $325 million to upgrade electricity in additional schools, according to a document Carlson provided to the board.

An official count found that 93 percent of schools in Hawaii don’t have air conditioning throughout the entire school, although some schools have limited air conditioning.

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said some schools are partnering with local companies to get photovoltaic air conditioning systems installed.

Rosenlee also reiterated a proposal that schools should consider closing when the heat index exceeds 92 degrees.

“This is not a new policy,” Rosenlee said. “In other states, in California this week, it was getting to a point where it was really hot and they were closing schools down.”

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