Air conditioners falter at Washington area schools as temperatures rise

Washington was the hottest spot on the Weather Channel’s map at noon Tuesday when temperatures spiked to 92 degrees. And at H.D. Woodson Senior High School in Northeast, students and teachers were starting to feel it as the air conditioner struggled to keep up with the mercury.

Sirraya Gant, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, spent part of the day in the cafeteria at a meeting. “The longer I sat there, the hotter I got,” she said.

The next morning, officials announced that school would be closed for the day, giving students the summer equivalent of a snow day during the second week of school.

The second major heat wave this summer coincided with the return to school for most of the region’s students. Schools cranked up their air conditioners — and some sputtered.

Excel Academy Public Charter School in Landover, Md., placed fans in every classroom, offered water bottles and set up a “cooling station” last week after the air conditioner faltered. Some parents were concerned, but school administrators decided to remain in the building “to ensure minimal disruption,” said Loretta White, the charter school liaison for the Prince George’s County school system. White said that the latest repair was finished Wednesday and that the air conditioning was expected to be on again Thursday.

Fairfax County officials also reported air-conditioner problems, including mechanical failures, in a few buildings during the opening days of school this week. None caused school to shut down, as H.D. Woodson in the District did.

“I know the children are loving it,” Gant said. Her son, a Woodson senior, planned to use some of the day preparing for the SAT.

Melissa Salmanowitz, D.C. Public Schools spokeswoman, said air conditioning has been an “ongoing issue” at the high school, which reopened in 2011 after a $102 million renovation.

She said maintenance staff worked through the night Tuesday to fix it. But by 7 a.m., they decided that parts of the building were still too hot, with some rooms hovering at 85 or 86 degrees. The school system tries to keep building temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees, she said.

Workers were installing a temporary chiller Wednesday, and officials expected to be able to reopen the school Thursday.

Gant said D.C. Public Schools made the right decision to close the school. “What happens when it’s too hot is that people get irritated,” she said.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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