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Sweat Shop

Things were cooking last month … and I'm not talking about in the kitchen.

As a heat wave baked much of the nation, millions of students were attempting to finish their last few weeks of school in classrooms that felt more like saunas than learning environments. And with the majority of the nation's classrooms devoid of air conditioning, concentrating on schoolwork was an exceptionally difficult thing to do.

As most education institutions run classes through mid-June, and many start the new academic year in mid-August, operating schools without air conditioning can make for a very uncomfortable — and unproductive — experience. In addition, even though the “official” school year is in recess for most during summer months, school buildings increasingly are being used year-round, making them among the only building types requiring occupants to toil in spaces that often can be more oppressive than being outside in the blistering heat.

Air conditioning in schools has become a matter of new vs. old. Specifically, it is hard to find a new education building constructed over the past couple of decades that doesn't air-condition the majority of its space. Yet most of the nation's older schools still do not have it.

Granted, installing air conditioning in existing facilities often is expensive, and other upgrades (electric, insulation, windows, etc.) typically must be addressed before buildings can make effective use of cooling. But it still is no excuse for not providing a basic building necessity.

There are a number of school districts that are trying to address the air-conditioning issue. For example, the District of Columbia is using some of its dollars to air-condition select facilities. And St. Louis has reinitiated its on-again, off-again plan to air-condition its schools.

In the quest to provide environments that are conducive to learning, it's important to look at air conditioning. If we are to be producing truly world-class-educated students, we need to eliminate the “sweat-shop” conditions many children are forced to endure and provide them with the basic comfort that will allow them to excel.



Year that the first air-conditioning system was installed in an office building.


Amount, in millions, of the first of two bond issues passed by St. Louis voters that has paid for air conditioning at 29 schools, plus five projects that will start this summer.


Amount, in millions, of a second bond that will pay for air conditioning in up to 35 additional St. Louis schools.


Percentage of space air-conditioned in new K-12 facilities projects completed in 2004.

Source: AS&U 31st annual Official Education Construction Report


Percentage of space air-conditioned in new college facilities projects completed in 2004.

Source: AS&U 31st annual Official Education Construction Report

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