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Unseasonably warm September heats up classrooms in Springfield

Air conditioning units outside a building.
Ildar Sagdejev
Creative Commons
Air conditioning units outside a building.

Half of the 60 school buildings in Springfield, Mass., the third largest district in the state, don't have air conditioning. Most are elementary schools and some are so old they couldn't support a school-wide cooling system. Springfield's school buildings are among dozens in the statebuilt decades ago, some at the turn of the 20th century.

When COVID hit, the district received money to upgrade its air quality systems, said Springfield Public Schools spokesperson Azell Cavaan, and the hope was to also put in air conditioners. A survey of buildings revealed the price tag would be more than $250 million, which was unfeasible.

"It's very expensive and it's very problematic, and so the approach thus far has been on a case by case basis," Cavaan said adding, "the ultimate goal would be to upgrade all schools at one time, rather than to pick and choose which should go first."

To manage the heat this week, Springfield teachers have been advised to keep students hydrated, close the blinds and fans are available though not always welcome.

"In some cases, you know, the fans create a great sense of comfort and relief in the building," Cavaan said, "and in other cases, if the room is very hot and humid, you'll hear teachers and students saying it's blowing around the warm air and so they so they won't use it."

It was hot enough Tuesday that the school district cancelled all afterschool activities. The city is also offering seven cooling centers through Thursday.

Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and Helen Caulton-Harris, the city's Health and Human Services Commissioner, are asking residents to be mindful as the hot weather continues.

"Stay hydrated, check on your elderly neighbors, be mindful of your pets, and please take advantage of our wonderful park facilities that offer the resources for staying cool during these hot summer days," Sarno said.

Temperatures are expected to cool down by the weekend.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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