Two Auburn schools getting new heating, cooling systems

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AUBURN — To improve air quality and student comfort, save energy costs and pave the way for possible shorter summer vacations, two Auburn elementary schools will be getting new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

When school opens this fall, Fairview and Walton elementary schools will have air conditioning, ventilation and energy-efficient heating systems, Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill said.

Fairview and Walton are among the city’s oldest schools.

The project will cost about $1.3 million and will be paid for by the state’s revolving loan program. That means the state picks up 52 percent of the costs, Auburn taxpayers the remaining 48 percent, Morrill said.

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The loan payments are built into the school department’s $34.7 million budget under capital improvements, he said.

With the new heating and cooling systems “we’re attacking multiple issues,” Morrill said Friday. “We’re improving the air quality in our schools. Walton was built in 1934, expanded in 1967. The school has no ventilation, and the heating system is steam. Once it’s turned on, it’s hard to regulate and heats the building unevenly. Sometimes in January some parts of the buildings are so hot the windows have to be open,” Morrill said.

Fairview was built in 1956. It’s heating is also inefficient and needs ventilation to provide healthier air. There have been summers when there’s been too much moisture at Fairview and other schools, which created mold. “We’ve had mold and water issues. It can be a very serious problem,” Morrill said. Fairview needs a dehumidifier to reduce moisture and mold.

Plans call for all Auburn elementary schools to have updated HVAC, Morrill said.

Park Avenue and Sherwood Heights already have it. Next summer, if funding is available, Washburn and East Auburn schools would get it, then the Auburn Middle School. “With Edward Little we’re keeping our fingers crossed” that eventually it will get state funding for a major renovation or new building.

Even with adding air conditioning, energy costs to run the schools after they’re updated will be less, Morrill said, because they’ll be more energy efficient.

It’s important to improve air quality “because we have kids who are sensitive to whatever’s in the air. Asthma continues to climb.”

And schools, especially the second floors of older buildings, are growing hotter.

Last year there was a heat wave in late August and early September that prompted a number of schools in Maine to close because the buildings were too hot.

Dr. Dora Mills, then director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control, said the September heat wave was “a wake-up call,” that Maine schools and nursing homes need air conditioning.

Shorter summer vacations?

Air conditioning in schools will also help Auburn get ready to change its school vacation schedule.

“We’re going to be out of school June 15 and don’t start again until the last week in August,” Morrill said. “That is a tremendous amount of time for learning to be lost.”

Across the country a number of school districts have six-week summer vacations and longer vacations through the year. “The results seem to be pretty promising” with improved learning, Morrill said.

The need for shorter summers is greater for poorer students, whose parents can’t afford educational or enriching activities. Those students lose more learning, Morrill said.

Morrill said he would not recommend adding days to Auburn’s 175 days because that would cost money that’s not available. But shortening the summer with more breaks throughout the year would be another way to achieve a goal of having 90 percent of third-graders performing math and reading at grade level by 2014, Morrill said.

No decision has been made to change Auburn’s vacation schedule, and Morrill is retiring on June 14.

That’s a topic Auburn schools will likely consider after his departure, Morrill said. “We need to work with parents and create a balanced calendar.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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