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  Sunday April 20th, 2014    

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Millions pondered for elementary A/C (09/18/2013)
By Jen Burris

Central building second story cooled for $2,600

The idea of a modified school year has repeatedly brought about discussions by the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board on spending millions of dollars to install air conditioning in elementary school buildings. Because of the multi-million dollar expense of retrofitting the older buildings, discussions have included the idea of closing the older elementary schools and building a new elementary school. Some have noted that the cost of constructing a new elementary building would be comparable to the cost of adding new air conditioning units to existing elementary buildings, according to cost estimates presented thus far. As superintendent Scott Hannon continues to gather information on air conditioning options other than the $16 million dollar option presented earlier this year, Central Elementary, home of Miller Mentoring, has managed to cool off its second floor for just $2,600.

A modified school year would extend the school year to a calendar that is closer to year-round school, which some have linked to higher academic achievement. The School Board has previously discussed two modified calendars: the first would begin on August 1 and end on June 6; the second modified calendar would begin on August 1 and end on July 3. The first option would be a modified school year, including breaks, with the same number of instructional days. The second modified calendar would follow a 45/15 schedule, with 15-day breaks between periods of 45 days in school, ultimately adding 10 days to the school year.

Energy Services Group, a firm the district is using for other building upgrades, previously presented a plan to install central air conditioning to the three older elementary schools for $16 million. Some have questioned whether the district should invest such a large amount into aging structures.

Although many people appear to be in favor of a modified school year, some are concerned about the comfort of elementary buildings that are not currently air-conditioned.

Hannon noted that the serious consideration of a modified school year has been hindered by a desire to have a comfortable environment for students to learn and staff to teach. If school were to start on August 1, there would be a potential to have more days in which the working and learning environment would not be good, he added. Commenting on the less expensive Central approach, Hannon expressed concern about the electrical load that would be added by running so many window units at one time.

There have been discussions about putting only secondary students on the modified calendar, but then there would be an increase in cost, Hannon explained. There would be staffing and scheduling issues involving teachers who shuttle between the schools, he added.

In the future, a facilities report will help the School Board move toward a decision regarding the future of the elementary buildings. “There are pros and cons to a lot of this, and I’m sure that we’ll be getting at that more in future conversations,” Hannon said.

Margaret Schild, Community Education director, works on the first floor of the now cool Central building. She explained that her office area was previously outfitted with air conditioning during renovations. There are three other rooms on the first floor that benefit from window units. Upstairs, where Miller Mentoring is housed, nearly all of the classrooms — except the media room — contain units. The Central building also uses Venetian blinds to help reduce the heat in the building. Schild noted that without the window units, they simply would not be able to use the classrooms in the building year-round.  

 

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