Fans help make schools cool

KAHULUI – More than 100 fans were donated to Maui public middle schools Monday as Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and Goodfellow Bros. teamed up to try to bring some cool relief to schools that have seen temperatures of more than 90 degrees in their classrooms since school began in late July.

This is a “first step,” Tsutsui said. But “this is not a long-term solution.”

Tsutsui will be writing a letter to the state Board of Education to consider modifying the school calendar. He is suggesting that the school year begin in late August rather than July to avoid having students and teachers in classrooms during the hottest time of the year.

In July, 19 days hit the 90-degree mark on Maui, which is 16.5 more days than normal, according to the National Weather Service. Kahului Airport reached 97 degrees on Aug. 22, although it was a Saturday, when students were not in school.

While delivering 20 fans to Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului on Monday morning, Tsutsui said having a longer summer has other benefits. Currently, Hawaii student athletes may miss the opening of the school year when championship tournaments are still being held on the Mainland and internationally. Summer schools could benefit from the longer summer, he added.

Coincidentally, the state Board of Education today at its meeting on Oahu will be receiving a presentation of the state Department of Education’s Heat Abatement Program, including the program’s status and the “way ahead.”

Maui state Board of Education Member Grant Chun, who was at Maui Waena on Monday, said that assisting schools with the heat is at the top of the minds of the board chairperson and members.

He added that the efforts by Tsutsui and Goodfellow Bros. were really appreciated.

“This project is a great way to support our community and ensure that our students and teachers are comfortable in our classrooms,” said Chad Goodfellow, president of Goodfellow Bros.

Goodfellow also was at Maui Waena to see the fans that his company helped purchase. He said he received a call from Tsutsui to see if he wanted to assist and was glad to do so. Private funds were used to purchase the fans.

Maui Waena Intermediate Principal Jamie Yap appreciated the support of Tsutsui and Goodfellow.

Yap said the weather has been so hot, that it apparently led to one male student fainting Thursday during a physical education class. He added that day had a record-setting high temperature. The National Weather Service said it was 93 degrees at Kahului Airport. The previous record for that day was 92 degrees, set in 1952.

Yap said that the student has returned to school, but had stayed home after the incident as a precautionary measure. An ambulance took the student to Maui Memorial Medical Center, Yap said.

Before the school year began, Yap said that the school purchased some tents and water coolers to try and keep students cool during physical education class and when out on the school’s field.

On Monday, students took advantage of the shade in the tents on the school field, and coolers filled with ice water were near the physical education area, Yap pointed out.

Two water coolers have been filled with water and ice and have been stationed in the cafeteria. The cold water hasn’t stayed there long.

“It’s gone in two shakes,” Yap said.

He added that school officials have urged students to bring their own water bottles to school.

Yap took Tsutsui, Goodfellow and Chun for a short tour of the campus to visit some classrooms. Without cooling trade winds, students were left with fans to seek relief. Yap showed the guests the field with shade tents.

“We’re just standing here,” Yap said as the group finished looking at the tents while standing in the sun. “The kids are running.”

As Yap met with Tsutsui on Monday, he gave the lieutenant governor a log of temperatures monitored by teachers in their classrooms.

While he didn’t do an average of the temperatures, Yap said some of the higher ones reached 91 to 94 degrees.

Yap previously told The Maui News that “the temperature might be in the 90s, but it feels like it’s 100.”

The Maui News story “Not Cool,” published on Page A1 on Aug. 23, caught the eye of Tsutsui, who said he then searched for ways to assist the students.

He also is encouraging businesses and the community to support a campaign on the GoFundMe crowd funding website, called “Keep Our Keiki Cool,” which can be found at www.gofundme.com/aa2xz7t4.

In Maui County, the only schools with central air conditioning throughout their campuses are Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina; Kihei Elementary, Kamalii Elementary and Lokelani Intermediate in Kihei; and Pomaikai Elementary in Kahului and Puu Kukui Elementary in Wailuku, according to a DOE report scheduled to be presented to the Board of Education today.

Yap said he also had purchased fans at the beginning of the school year predicting it would be hot. He added that teachers have bought their own fans.

He said that F&H Construction, which is working on a new classroom building, donated two portable air-conditioning units for portable classrooms.

When asked about placing air conditioning in all classrooms, Tsutsui said that effort is not based on a lack of effort, but a lack of resources.

The state Department of Education has said it would cost $1.7 billion to install an air-conditioning system in every school. The department has noted that electricity costs have doubled at at least one Oahu school where air conditioning was installed.

The DOE in its report to the state Board of Education compared electricity bills for similar-sized schools in the same district, one with central air conditioning and the other without.

A comparison of Puu Kukui Elementary, with 655 students, showed that its electricity cost $18,870 for the month of May. At Wailuku Elementary, with 704 students and no central air conditioning, the school’s electric bill for the same month was $10,713.

Tsutsui said many of the schools are old, and costly upgrades would be needed to place air conditioning in schools, as well.

Yap said he would be open to having a photovoltaic system at his school to help power air conditioning for his entire campus.

Currently, the Maui Waena front office, band room, library and some classrooms have air conditioning.

The campus has 20 air-conditioned classrooms, or 29 percent, of the school’s 69 classrooms, the DOE report said.

At nearby Lihikai Elementary School in Kahului, only five (9 percent) out of 57 classrooms have air conditioning, the DOE reported. Wailuku Elementary School has five classrooms (8 percent) out of 65 with air conditioning.

At Kahului Elementary, nine (16 percent) out of 58 classrooms have air conditioning.

The exhibit detailing percentages of air-conditioned classrooms found in a DOE report did not include all Maui County schools.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.