Lawmakers have agreed to invest $100 million to cool hundreds of public school classrooms across the state.
House and Senate negotiators advanced Senate Bill 3126 out of conference committee shortly before tonight’s internal deadline. The measure, which next heads for floor votes in the House and Senate, appropriates general funds, or cash from the general treasury, “for the installation of and equipment for air conditioning, heat abatement, energy efficient lighting, and other energy efficiency measures for schools of the Department of Education.”
The funding is tied to Gov. David Ige’s pledge to cool 1,000 classrooms by the end of 2016. DOE officials say the $100 million will cover the cost of the work.
“We’ll make that money go as far as it can go,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “Due to energy efficiency measures we have in place, the $100 million will cover the 1,000 classrooms. We’re hoping to go beyond that.”
Air conditioning is one piece of the DOE’s so-called heat abatement program. The department’s goal is for classroom temperatures to be at 76 degrees. Mechanical cooling is planned for classrooms in which heat abatement efforts — such as with ceiling fans, solar-powered vents to draw out hot air, and heat-reflective roof systems — don’t sufficiently bring down the temperature.
Of the 11,820 DOE classrooms across the state, roughly 4,400 classrooms had air conditioning as of last week, according to department data. A total of 49 schools — or 19 percent of DOE schools — have at least 90 percent of their classrooms air-conditioned.
Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and a longtime advocate for cooling public school classrooms, called the bill’s passage a victory.
“Today was a huge victory for students across the state who will finally be able to focus on their learning rather than the heat,” Rosenlee, who was traveling Friday, said in a statement. “We are so grateful that lawmakers are helping to improve the learning environment for students across the state by cooling these classrooms. This money is going to allow us to experiment and bring the cost of air conditioning classrooms down,” he said, citing the example of two Molokai schools that installed solar-powered air conditioning this spring.
Earlier versions of the bill had included an additional $30 million in state-backed bonds for the effort, but that was removed during conference negotiations.