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‘Depressing’ warmth: Austin ISD conscious of air-con points on campuses, eyeing long-term fixes

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As students head back to school, the Austin Independent School District is working to tackle air conditioning issues in some classrooms, hallways and libraries.

One librarian described “miserable” temperatures at her school with what felt like no air circulating “at all.” Another email — sent by a high school principal to parents and forwarded to KXAN investigators — warned about their “backup plan” to move teachers from their own classrooms into cooler areas, if need be.

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Last August, more than 700 maintenance requests for HVAC system issues had been filed just two weeks into the 2021-2022 school year, KXAN reported at the time. By mid-May, the district’s records showed more than 4,900 HVAC work orders were filed over the course of the year.

KXAN investigators asked the district for the number of work orders filed this year, but have yet to hear back. At a press conference Monday, the first day of classes for AISD students and teachers, AISD’s Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos said they were aware of some HVAC issues.

The district spends $12 million on facility repairs annually, according to Ramos and Chief of Operations Matias Segura. Segura added that some repairs or replacements are too expensive under the general operating budget.

“We are constantly putting ‘Band-Aids’ on our facilities,” he told KXAN education reporter Nabil Remadna. “That’s not fixing it, the way that we truly want to fix it. That’s really just repairing it, so that it can continue on.”

The district rents temporary spot chillers for cooling classrooms in some cases. KXAN reported last August that many as 60 classrooms started off the first day of the 2021-2022 school year using these chillers.

Segura said the district spent a total of $1.7 million renting chillers over the course of the year. He said that amount was equivalent to the district paying 25 teachers.

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“It’s all one bucket,” he said, referring to the district’s general operating budget. “The second largest line item behind salaries is utility cost. Right behind that is maintenance and operations expenditures tied to facilities. And so, these are big line items.”

Interim Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mays addressed the problems directly at the Monday press conference.

“Raise your hand if you are a little hot,” he said, raising his own. The question was met with laughter in the room.

Mays then emphasized the importance of the proposed $2.44 billion bond for addressing some of these issues. He said the bond could offer a long-term fix.

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“Allows our students to be comfortable in the classroom, allows our professionals to be comfortable in the classroom, so that we can all come again into a facility where we’re…not sweating at this point,” he said,

The bond proposal was recently approved by the Board of Trustees to go before voters on the November ballot. The proposal lists dozens of schools slated for heat and air-conditioning improvements, while others are slated for full “modernization.”

“When you modernize campuses, you improve the environment for students from air conditioning, utilities, and just the overall safety that we have in our facilities as well,” said AISD’s Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos.

Read more about the district’s bond proposal.