Officials in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 have found a partial solution to sweaty conditions in schools that lack air conditioning, thanks to $3.7 million in unexpected funding from the state.
The district plans to install air conditioning by August 2015 in about a quarter of its classrooms at 19 elementary schools that don't have full cooling systems, officials said Wednesday.
The plan comes nearly a year after a heat wave caused the district to twice cancel classes at schools without air conditioning for "heat days."
"This is a way that we could partially air-condition our classrooms in an effort to really limit the amount of heat days that we could have to call," school board President Lori Price said.
The district was anticipating it would receive 82 percent of the state funding it was owed for this year's budget, but found out recently that 87 percent of the total actually came through. That provided $3.7 million the district wasn't planning on receiving.
Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the district plans to use the unexpected money -- without tapping into any other funds -- to install a system called ductless air conditioning in 25 percent of elementary classrooms where full cooling is not available.
"We'd like to see all our elementary buildings fully air-conditioned," Sullivan said. "We just have to live within our budget."
The district is working with engineers to determine which classrooms can be air-conditioned most easily, based on where a compressor unit on the roof would have to be located, Sullivan said.
Classrooms to be cooled will add to the small number of temperature-controlled spaces already available for elementary students and teachers to cool off on hot days. Sullivan said a group of principals has developed a plan for how to share the cool spaces once more classrooms are air-conditioned.
"We were rotating kids through the cool spaces that we did have. We just have limited cooling spaces right now," Sullivan said. "This would give them a number of other classrooms that would make the time that students would spend in cool air significantly greater than what we are able to offer now."
A focus group the district convened after calling two "heat days" last September suggested the ductless air conditioning system as a middle ground between full-building air conditioning, which was estimated to cost $13.6 million, and cheaper but noisy window units.
Following the group's recommendation and receiving the unexpected money from the state allowed the district to find a solution Price called "a step in the right direction."
Amy Toepper, a parent at May Watts Elementary, shared what she called the "fantastic news" Wednesday on a "Help Cool the Schools in District 204" Facebook page created last year.
Toepper said the school board and Sullivan "made a balanced, fair and effective decision that will have real, tangible results."