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North Mianus School struggles to beat the heat

September 19, 2018

GREENWICH — When a chipmunk squeezed through an open vent and ran across a North Mianus School classroom on the first day of school, parent Christine O’Neill knew it was a bad call to open the building before Labor Day.

The district began installing a new heating ventilation and air conditioning system at North Mianus this summer, but problems with the company supplying the units delayed the project until the end of September for heating and Oct. 15 for air conditioning, Greenwich Public Schools Director of Facilities Dan Watson said.

The school relies on 30 small fans purchased for the classrooms and ventilation provided by the unfinished units. The chipmunk gained entry through one of those unfinished grates.

On Thursday, Aug. 30, “it was brutal — 77 degrees in the hallway,” O’Neill said. The next day, students tried to stay cool with water-spritzing fans and washcloths. Upstairs, fourth- and fifth-graders sweated the most, and downstairs in the third-grade wing, a few birds flew through the vent, too. She fired off an email to Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo.

“People were scared about their kids upstairs,” said O’Neill, a parent to a first-grade boy and a fourth-grade girl. “I think parents would’ve pulled kids out if this kept going.”

Mayo responded “immediately” and visited the school Saturday, she said. Students and teachers returned after Labor Day to find portable air-conditioning units, which they enjoyed for the rest of the week.

“Even though there was no plan, I appreciated Ralph got back to me immediately and they tried to figure it out,” O’Neill said, adding that the units helped third-, fourth- and fifth-graders only marginally.

The portable units were a “Friday-night arrangement,” Watson said. “It wasn’t a perfect scenario, but it helped out a great deal,” he said.

But the drop in temperatures and humidity, the noisiness of the units and their cost contributed to the school’s decision to stop renting them, Watson said. The portable air conditioning was removed by Sept. 9.

The district has not received a final invoice for rented units, nor has it determined how to appropriate the money to pay for them.

To beat the heat, classrooms divide their time between the gym and the media center, two sections with air conditioning, and teachers give the children breaks. The school had early release on the first day.

Jennifer Donat’s fourth-grade daughter tries to wear as much light clothing as possible to beat the stifling heat of her upstairs classroom.

“I think the heat is distracting,” Donat said.

The heat probably affected the testing that students have to do in early September, O’Neill predicted.

And there’s no relief in the nurse’s office, where the air conditioning unit has been broken since the spring, O’Neill said.

Aaron Leonard’s fifth-grade son said “it’s hot 95 percent of the time” — a description to take “with a grain of salt,” the parent said in an email.

“It certainly has been hot and humid for most of the time they’ve been back,” he wrote. “The fans are still there, but they don’t help much.”

The units will eventually provide heat, air-conditioning and ventilation, Watson said. Currently, the ventilation component of the units is working.

Debora Kuehnel said her second-grade grandson has not complained about the warmer temperatures.

“Going back to when I was in school, we did not even have air-conditioning,” she said.

When she walks him to school, the classrooms feel cooler than outside because the open vents bring in fresh air.

“Pretty soon, they’ll be wanting heat, not air,” she said.

Watson said the manufacturing company is the source of the delays. It cited a higher demand for air-conditioning this year and larger companies buying up multiple units, he said.

“We never got 100 percent straight answers to why,” he said.

The delays are not the result of the contracted workers, who he commended for working after-hours.

“They’re a competent group,” he said. “If there was an issue with manpower, we would’ve solved that a long time ago.”

Susan Isaak, whose son is in a fifth-grade classroom upstairs, said he does not mention the air-conditioning. The parents she knows are accepting the inconvenience.

If the school was not making efforts to fix the problem, she said her reaction would be different.

“It seems out of their control,” she said. “I don’t want to give the school a hard time.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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