Portable Cooling Units to Be Tried at 2 Schools

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Portable air conditioners will be installed in two San Fernando Valley elementary schools to test whether the units should be used as a cheaper alternative to costly central air-conditioning, Los Angeles school district officials said Tuesday.

The air-conditioning experiment will be conducted at the Strathern Street School in North Hollywood and Telfair Avenue School in Pacoima, where principals said classroom temperatures can reach 100 degrees.

"We have no air-conditioning at all so we are delighted," Telfair Principal Dolores Soll said. "The heat builds up in the afternoon and it is just unbearable."

District officials are hoping that the lower-cost, less-powerful window air conditioners can maintain cool classrooms and operate quietly. Officials estimate that it would cost $90 million to install central air-conditioning at the 61 schools citywide that started year-round schedules this summer. Installing portable air conditioners would cost an estimated $25 million.

The district can only afford portable fans for year-round schools, but is requesting nearly $40 million in state bond money earmarked for air-conditioning schools throughout California.

Los Angeles school officials fear that the state will be unable to finance the hefty cost of central air at the schools. But if the window system can adequately cool classrooms, district officials said they would consider purchasing cheaper units to cool as many schools as possible.

School maintenance workers will record classroom temperatures and measure noise levels to evaluate the systems.

Strathern Street School Principal Kathy Henry said there is a noticeable difference between the two systems. The school now has two classrooms air-conditioned with window units and two with central air.

"The window units don't get as cool," Henry said. "But if I had a choice I would take them over nothing at all."

Telfair and Strathern were picked from among 23 Valley schools that started year-round classes this month. Strathern was selected because the school has a generator to power the new window units, district officials said. Telfair was picked because it has the highest number of classrooms without air-conditioning.

Parents, teachers and students have complained that record-breaking July temperatures have made learning nearly impossible in classrooms without air-conditioning.

Henry said she continues to hear from parents angry about high classroom temperatures.

"But when they come in and see us all puffy and red and sweating, they can see we are as hot as the kids," Henry said. "That tempers the anger."

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