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Air-Conditioning Plan : Funds on Way to Cool Rooms at 3 Schools

Times Staff Writer

Students and teachers of at least three year-round elementary schools in Northeast Los Angeles may get relief from summer heat under a plan tentatively approved last week by the Los Angeles school board to air-condition classrooms.

If formally approved during final budget hearings scheduled for Aug. 26, some of the $6.2 million earmarked to air-condition 43 year-round schools in the district will be used to install additional air conditioning by next summer at Aldama Elementary School in Highland Park, Aragon Avenue School in Glassell Park and Micheltorena Street School in Silver Lake.

Funds to pay for design of an air-conditioning system at the Fletcher Drive School in Glassell Park will also be included in the plan.

“It’s amazing that people won’t shop at a supermarket without air conditioning, yet we send our kids to school in the heat for six hours, " said Aldama Principal Allyn Shapiro.

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Certain of Funding

Though state funding is needed to complete plans at Aragon, Aldama, Fletcher Drive and Micheltorena schools, district officials say they are certain the money will be provided.

Micheltorena Street School, which began a year-round schedule in 1981, is scheduled to receive $296,000 from the district. Nearly $1 million in state construction money is needed to complete the air-conditioning project because it is tied to a plan to renovate the school’s main building, district officials said. As at other year-round classrooms without air conditioning, the 14 classrooms in Micheltorena’s main building have electric fans to keep temperatures down.

“When I come in in the morning, it’s 80 degrees because we can’t keep the windows open at night, and it goes up from there,” said Denise Featherstone, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher. “The fans just stir the hot air around.”

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‘Gets Too Cold’

During the past two years the district has installed air conditioning in the 12 portable classrooms at Micheltorena, acting Principal Monroe Spiesman said. But even the air-cooled classrooms are not without problems.

“I don’t use the air all the time because it gets too cold,” said Karen Johnson, a first-grade teacher. “When I use it, I have to leave the door open. But without it, I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Los Angeles Unifed School District Board of Education member Jackie Goldberg last week said that schools that were part of the original switch to a year-round schedule in 1980 should get priority in this year’s air-conditioning project. She said she has three of the four votes needed on the board to approve her idea.

Her proposal has raised concerns that Micheltorena, which switched a year later, might have to wait another year for air conditioning.

But district business manager Doug Brown said this week that the Micheltorena project will proceed regardless of any policy change.

“The design work is done; the contract has been bid. It’s so far along that, even if a change goes through, there are sufficient funds to award the contract,” Brown said.

Summer heat has worn the patience of Doug Tuttle, who has taught for 12 years at Aldama School in Highland Park. Since his school went year-round in 1980, the heat has caused him to think of transferring to another area, he said.

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“I have two fans in my classroom, but it’s still 80 degrees on moderate days during the summer,” Tuttle said. “I have to put paperweights on all the papers because of the fans. . . . We’ve been promised air conditioning for a long time.”

Aldama school is scheduled to receive $125,000 in district money to air-condition 15 of the school’s 22 classrooms. Officials expect an additional $100,000 in state funds for the construction, which is scheduled to start by next summer.

‘Can’t Work’

For Aldama fifth-grader Reuben Escandon, relief has been slow in coming.

“I can’t work when it’s too hot,” Reuben said. “When we open the windows I can’t hear because of the cars.”

Fifth-grader Victor Chirino, echoing the sentiments of most of the students interviewed, said: “When it gets real hot, usually you feel like sleeping.”

The most sought-after workplace for students and teachers who normally spend their days in one of the rooms without air conditioning, Shapiro said, is the computer lab, which has been air-conditioned since 1980.

Aldama office secretary Miggy Medina, who on hot days directs the heavy traffic of overheated students suffering nausea to the nurse’s office, said that by noon she feels like taking another shower.

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“There are days when I feel like transferring,” Medina said.

‘Like Wilted Lettuce’

Aldama fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Pat Trivers said: “Normally, the students are so energetic. It’s hard to see them sitting there like wilted lettuce.”

Aragon Elementary in Glassell Park will also need state construction funds to cool 13 of the school’s 27 classrooms that are not air-conditioned. The school board tentatively agreed to spend $190,000 on the school but awaits $150,000 from the state to complete a building renovation, planned for next year, that will include the air conditioning.

The district proposal also includes $120,000 to pay for design plans to air-condition the last four classrooms at Fletcher Drive Elementary in Glassell Park. District officials estimate that the rooms will be air conditioned by the 1986-87 school year, as long as expected state construction funds are received.

Design Delays

At Monte Vista Street Elementary School in Highland Park, design delays, not funding problems, have forced some students and teachers in classrooms without air conditioning to suffer the summer heat longer than they had expected. A disagreement among contractors, the district, the school principal and the Department of Water and Power over where to put the cooling system’s transformer has delayed installation, the district said.

“I didn’t want the transformer in the middle of the lunch area,” said Monte Vista Principal Emil Espinoza.

Especially upsetting for Monte Vista first- and second-grade teacher Annette Banks and her students, Banks said, is seeing the large, crated air-conditioning unit that sits in her classroom waiting to be installed.

“They measured my room for air conditioning two years ago,” Banks said. “Last fall they punched holes in the wall and took out the blower that was here originally. This air-conditioning unit has been here since November.”

Uncertainty Remains

Though the logistical problems with the city’s power company have been solved, Kimball said, he did not know when the units will be in operation. “Probably sometime in the middle of September,” he said.

Eight of the school’s 23 classrooms remain without air conditioning since Monte Vista went year-round in 1981. By next year all but two classrooms will have air conditioning, according to the district plan.

No district funding will be provided this year to complete air conditioning at three Northeast Los Angeles elementary schools that changed to a year-round schedule after 1981, under the current budget proposal. The schools--Buchanan Street School, Glassell Park School and Loreto Street School--will have to wait for state construction funds, according to the current plan. But district officials say the money has been requested from the state and they are optimistic that it will be provided.

Opposing View

Not all of the teachers interviewed said air conditioning should be a district priority. Micheltorena fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Jack McCorkle said the money should be spent on instructional materials, rather than for comfort.

“I haven’t known a child whose attitude and work were really disrupted by the heat,” said McCorkle, who has taught at the school for 25 years. “I don’t think the arrival of air conditioning will have a profound impact on the academic performance of teachers and students. Capable students will still be capable and the reluctant students will still be reluctant.

“I have never heard a teacher complain about the heat as a factor in the performance of their job. No teacher has ever said to me, ‘I can’t teach math today because it’s too hot.’ ”


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