Lewiston superintendent: New schools need air conditioning

LEWISTON Lewiston classrooms were uncomfortable Tuesday and Wednesday with temperatures in the 80s, a few in the 90s.

Like most schools in Maine, Lewiston classrooms do not have air conditioning, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

In Auburn, most classrooms do, except for Edward Little High School. During hot weather, Auburn classroom temperatures are a comfortable 70 to 72, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

Concerned about health effects from the heat, some Lewiston parents asked Webster to call an early dismissal during the unofficial heat wave.

The National Weather Service reports an official heat wave must have three consecutive days of 90 or above; the last three days were 92, 89 and 90.

Webster, who's known for not being quick to call snow days, said he has the authority to call an emergency early dismissal, but for that to happen, temperatures would need to get close to 100.

Warm classrooms are not the best learning environment, he said. Expectations are not high of either the staff or students, but learning is still going on.

The School Committee has safety concerns about early dismissals, Webster said, including that too many children would go to homes without adults because parents are working. And some would go to homes more stifling than some of our classrooms.

On Monday, Webster will ask the School Committee for a policy allowing him to call late starts, like Auburn, which could cut back on the number of snow days.

Lewiston teachers took steps to keep students cool.

My teachers are turning the lights off. They brought in their own fans, Farwell Elementary School Principal Althea Walker said. We make sure the kids are hydrated. We meet the kids where they are.

After students come in from recess, several teachers hold read-aloud time in the library which is air conditioned. Teachers are figuring out ways to share the library, she said.

Martel Elementary School Principal Stephen Whitfield said the top floor of the old, brick school on Lisbon Street has gotten pretty toasty, as did other classrooms and Martel's portable classrooms.

After children played at recess, a lot of pink faces come in, he said. Overall, Martel students, have weathered it pretty well. I give them credit.

Like Farwell, Martel teachers brought in fans and took other measures to keep students cool.

The September heat illustrates that we need to do a better job in our schools, Webster said. Our air conditioning is not where we'd like it to be. Schools being built need to be 100 percent air conditioned since it is the best learning environment.

Some Lewiston schools don't have the best ventilation. And I didn't realize that not all of our libraries are air conditioned, Webster said. That will be a goal for next year.

To provide air conditioning at all schools would be costly, he said, but air conditioned libraries provide some relief.

Heat waves aside, Webster said new schools being built in Maine need to have air conditioning since more schools are used year-round, and hot days are happening more frequently.

He plans to ask the state to pay for air conditioning in the proposed elementary school to be built in Lewiston.

Air conditioning makes a big difference in learning, Auburn Park Avenue Elementary School Principal Vickie Gaylord said. During the past five years, the Auburn School Department installed new systems in schools that provide better ventilation and more efficient heat and air conditioning.

Gaylord said she considers her school fortunate. Kids are much more able to pay attention," she said. "We're more sluggish, more tired, when it's hot.

[email protected]