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Boston schools set to be a bit cooler this school year

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After decades of sweaty summer finals and sauna-like back-to-school classes, many Boston classrooms will be a little less sweltering this school year.

BPS had installed 956 air conditioning units in classrooms as of Aug. 29, according to a report at the Aug. 31 Boston Schools Committee meeting, a vast improvement for the facilities lacking infrastructure.

One of those went into Michael Maguire’s Latin Academy classroom.

“I’ve been teaching (at Boston Latin Academy) for 29 years. I love the school, love the building, love everything,” said Maguire. “Except its a nearly 100-year-old brick building — it’s a kiln. When it got hot, it got really hot.”

Most Boston schools, like Latin Academy, were built before World War II and didn’t include air conditioning.

The Mayor’s office rolled out a $2 billion “Green New Deal” plan for BPS facilities in May, adding onto the plan to revamp a wide array of Boston schools’ crumbling infrastructure including cooling systems. On the BPS Facilities Building Dashboard used to assess schools’ needs, over 100 of the 132 BPS schools’ heating and cooling systems are listed as “High” priority for upgrades.

Some schools have “limited mechanical ventilation,” meaning air ducts or fans, according to the BPS website, but the majority have no cooling mechanisms at all.

BPS only lists 38 school buildings with central HVAC systems.

Teachers and students have been sounding the alarm about the issue for years, with reports of students passing out, schools forced to end early and general untenable situations on hot days.

But this year some relief is finally in sight. Officials reported BPS is on track to install all A/C units by spring 2023 at the August meeting.

Maguire has been advocating for cooling systems for years, often calling into radio shows and commenting in public forums to ask the mayor or superintendent to try turning off their air conditioning on days in the upper 80s and 90s.

On Friday, walking in and seeing the new A/C unit in his classroom, Maguire said, was a huge relief.

It might be better to have central A/C, the units are loud and not all of the details are clear, he said, “but I’ll take it.”

“I’m absolutely grateful,” Maguire said. “Because it’s just so hot. The kids can’t do it.”

Many schools are waiting on electrical improvements before units can be installed, according to BPS. Manpower and opportunity are also factors for continued installations.

Especially during the MCAS, AP tests and finals at the end of the year, Macguire said, he could see the environment put kids at a real disadvantage.

“The city kids take them in sweltering conditions when the suburban kids don’t,” he said. “It’s just not the same dynamics.

“With the city rolling out air conditioning, we’re very hopeful that that’ll make the children’s experiences in school that much better.”

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