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July 5, 2019

Hillsborough Schools News: Keeping Schools Cool with New Air Conditioners

By Laura Cross, Hillsborough County Public Schools

Anyone who has a child under 10 knows comfort is a priority when it comes to their little bodies. If the temperature is too hot or cold, they cannot focus, and you will hear about their discomfort—repeatedly! Now, imagine you are a teacher, working with 22 of these uncomfortable, sweaty children. It doesn’t make for a very good learning environment.

That’s why Lithia Springs Elementary School looks like an absolute mess this summer with ceilings ripped apart, cables hanging down into hallways and classrooms gutted. Lithia Springs Elementary is one of 21 schools across Hillsborough County getting a brand-new air-conditioning system this summer with dollars raised by the Half-Penny Sales Tax.

Hillsborough County Public Schools delivers an excellent education—it’s ranked at the top of the nation’s large school districts and continues to set new academic records—but in some cases, the classrooms where the learning happens are ready for an overhaul.

Lithia Springs Principal Kevin Martin said some of the 26-year-old components of his school’s air-conditioning system gave out repeatedly last year, sending temperatures up over 80 degrees in some rooms. “But it was the humidity that was really bad. You just couldn’t get the humidity out of the rooms,” he says.

This August, conditions will be different. Students will leave the heat behind as they sit in cool classrooms, thanks to the investment of Half-Penny Sales Tax dollars from the people of Hillsborough County.

This comfort comes at a cost. The massive two-month effort to replace the air-conditioning (plus the ceilings and pipes and much more) at Lithia Springs Elementary costs $4 million—and that’s on the less expensive end of the spectrum. High schools can cost double that. That’s why Hillsborough Schools had to select which schools would receive air conditioning projects first, based on total need.

Next summer, more schools will get new air conditioning. Each year for the next decade, more revenue will come in from the Half-Penny Sales Tax to pay for the next round of projects.

Unfortunately, there’s no way this kind of project can be done with students and staff in the building. Everything needed to teach and learn has been boxed up or covered in plastic. Dozens of construction workers are walking in and out, with wires everywhere, debris falling from ceilings and crates of new parts lining the hallways. The entire school is a hard-hat zone—and it’s HOT! Obviously, to replace the air conditioning, you need to tear the old one out. The skeleton administrative staff at Lithia Springs is relegated to an upstairs media center, where large pipes blast air into that one room.

Yes, it’s an inconvenience. However, in two short months, when students and staff return to Lithia Springs Elementary, they will be comfortable and ready to learn.

Which, as anyone with a child under ten knows, is half the battle!

Find out more about the Half-Penny Sales Tax and the timeline for projects here: hillsboroughschools.org/citizenoversight

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