Grayslake Elementary District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll outlined options Wednesday for two schools forced to reduce operating hours last week because they lacked the air conditioning to keep students cool while in class.
Students at Woodview and Meadowview schools in Grayslake stayed home Tuesday last week and had half days the following three days because of the steamy conditions. Woodview and Meadowview have a combined enrollment of roughly 825 pupils in kindergarten through fourth grade.
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Correll told school board members at a meeting Wednesday evening that research she's read shows the optimum temperature to learn is 72 degrees. Some classrooms were measured at 80 to 86 degrees at Meadowview on the hottest days last week, she said.
"Temperatures over 80 degrees have a negative impact on memory," Correll added.
Air conditioning was added to Grayslake Middle School for the 2012-13 academic year for less than $1 million. However, as an offshoot of that decision in 2012, the school board declined to approve air conditioning at Woodview and Meadowview, citing cost concerns.
Correll said it could run up to $1.5 million to install air conditioning at Meadowview and Woodview. She said other options to create a cooler environment include moving the beginning of the academic year past Labor Day or bumping up daily start times.
Keith Grinnell, the district's operations and maintenance coordinator, said portable air-conditioning units would not be an option at Meadowview and Woodview because the structures don't have enough electrical capacity.
Correll said she and Grinnell began planning for what to do at Woodview and Meadowview based on weather forecasts roughly a week before the heat wave hit. Teachers were reminded to lower classroom blinds and monitor temperatures.
"There were fans in the rooms and in the hallways of the buildings," Correll said.
Grinnell said high overnight temperatures compounded the daytime problems because the schools never had an adequate chance to cool down.
Last year, District 46 officials began tracking a heat index chart, similar to how windchill factor is monitored in the winter, before determining if Woodview and Meadowview are safe for students. Heat and humidity are part of the equation, with green, yellow and red color codes on the chart.