The record-setting heat that baked most of the nation this summer had many of us longing for cooler days — or at least average temperatures that did not make us feel as if we were walking into a sauna every time we went outside.
Well, the discomfort experienced over the past few months due to sweltering temperatures could have been much worse if a little thing called air conditioning (AC) had not been invented a century ago. This year marks the 100th anniversary of what many consider to be one of the most important technological inventions of our time.
Yet, many of America's school buildings continue to be without it.
When the majority of the nation's school buildings were built, AC was considered a luxury, and most construction plans did not include it.
But today's schools are being used more extensively than they were 50, 20, even 10 years ago, when many practically were mothballed during the summer months and closed after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Now, it is not uncommon for institutions to stretch the academic calendar to mid-June or begin the new school year in early August — times when facilities can become extremely hot without AC. In addition, use of school buildings by students, staff and the community often runs right through the summer months — making those facilities without AC very uncomfortable.
While the inclusion of AC in newly constructed school buildings is common (see Scorecard at right), cost and installation challenges are the primary hurdles to adding AC in existing education facilities.
The importance of providing a comfortable learning environment, however, cannot be underestimated. If students are concerned more about the temperature in their classroom than the lesson being taught, learning will not take place.
What is ironic is that most adults would not tolerate a workplace environment that was not air-conditioned. Yet many of these same adults vote down bond issues that would provide money to add AC in schools. Maybe we should arrange for dissenters to spend a week at the end of August in an unair-conditioned classroom — perhaps that would change their thinking?
On a related note, just as AC celebrates an important milestone, this month marks the 75th anniversary of American School & University. In celebration, a special issue of this publication is being planned that will take a look back at the past 75 years in education facilities and business, as well as a glimpse of what the future might hold. All this will appear in the June issue — just in time for you to enjoy it in your air-conditioned office.
Percentage of new elementary school space completed in 2001 that was air-conditioned, up from 84 percent in 2000.
Percentage of new middle school space completed in 2001 that was air-conditioned, up from 77 percent in 2000.
Percentage of new high school space completed in 2001 that was air-conditioned, down from 84 percent in 2000.
Percentage of new college and university space completed in 2001 that was air-conditioned, up from 83 percent in 2000.
Percentage of new education space (schools and universities) completed in 2001 that was air-conditioned, up from 82 percent in 2000.
Source: American School & University's 28th Annual Official Education Construction Report