It could cost more than $20 million to air-condition five schools at Lake Zurich Unit District 95, according to an estimate provided by the superintendent.
Superintendent Michael Egan recently outlined the potential financial hit and offered National Weather Service data regarding school-year heat after some parents began using an online petition to push for air conditioning at the five buildings.
The petition surfaced after the start of the new academic year featured temperatures in the 90s for most of the week of Aug. 26.
"I am not opposed to air conditioning our remaining five buildings," Egan recently wrote in a monthly report, "but I do want people to understand the full cost of such an endeavor compared to the potential benefits."
Five of eight District 95 schools are not centrally air-conditioned. Egan said a recent update of a 2007 study by RuckPate Architecture of Barrington shows that retrofitting air conditioning into older structures typically is an expensive proposition, with a likely total cost topping $20 million for District 95.
But parent Andrea Trudeau of Kildeer, who launched a petition on change.org that has nearly 400 supporters, contends competitive bids would be necessary for a true financial picture to emerge. Trudeau is a teacher in Deerfield Elementary District 109.
District 95 school board President Tony Pietro said elected officials want to receive adequate feedback from the community before they pursue a formal discussion on air conditioning. He said the district couldn't pay $20 million or more without a tax increase.
"I know the administration is extremely credible and they wouldn't put out (financial) information that isn't accurate," Pietro said.
Trudeau said she and others plan to bring their case for air conditioning to public comment time at a school board meeting set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Lake Zurich High School's library.
Middle School North and Spencer Loomis Elementary School, both in Hawthorn Woods, and Lake Zurich High are the three buildings with air conditioning. Seth Paine Elementary School, Isaac Fox Elementary School, May Whitney Elementary School, Middle School South and Sarah Adams Elementary School, all in Lake Zurich, don't have central cooling systems.
Egan said National Weather Service data was compiled from the past 10 years in an effort to determine how hot it's been on school days. The district looked at the first and last months of the academic seasons.
Temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees for an average of three school days annually since 2003-04. In that same period, temperatures topped 85 degrees an average of 12 school days per year.
However, Trudeau said, the district should refer to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's measure of temperature and humidity known as the heat index. She said the average temperatures distributed by District 95 don't account for indoor air quality that results from the combination of heat and humidity.
"Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs demonstrate that physiological needs and safety are the two most basic needs we all have," Trudeau said. "Should a child be placed in a hot classroom with poor air quality, the focus then becomes surviving the environment and not the learning that should take place. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you that learning environment -- feeling safe and comfortable -- is a top priority in schools."
Egan said efforts are made to keep students comfortable in the extreme heat, including rotating them into limited air-conditioned areas in the five schools. Other measures to help pupils and staff include using large fans, opening windows for cross ventilation, and making available cold water and ice pops for hydration.
Grayslake Elementary District 46 also has been confronting the lack of air conditioning in Woodview and Meadowview schools. District 46 officials ordered a day off and three half days at two buildings without central air so far this school year.
Superintendent Ellen Correll has cited research indicating the optimum temperature to learn is 72 degrees. Correll said temperatures over 80 degrees are believed to have a negative impact on memory.
While a formal bidding process hasn't occurred, Correll said, a preliminary estimate shows it would cost $1.4 million to cool Meadowview and Woodview. She said "a handful of parents" have emailed or called about the lack of air conditioning and the missed school due to the extreme heat.
"I am sure that the board will have continued discussion around this issue," said Correll, who has floated the ideas of earlier start times or beginning the academic season after Labor Day to reduce the possibility of overly hot classrooms.