Rancho Bernardo schools will continue minimum daytime schedules this week due to air conditioning issues
Poway Unified has purchased portable air conditioning units for individual classrooms at Rancho Bernardo High School and Bernardo Heights Middle School, but schools will still have minimum daytime hours the rest of the week as a heatwave hits the area .
Over the past few weeks, district officials have been working to find solutions to lingering problems with the 32-year-old air conditioning system that have left students and teachers suffocated in their classrooms since the school opened on August 17.
A new cooler is expected to ship Wednesday, Poway Unified School District spokeswoman Christine Paik said. In order to install the chiller, a machine that removes heat from a coolant via a vapor compressor, the entire system must be shut down, officials said.
Rancho Bernardo High School students will exit at 1:15 p.m. while middle school students will exit at noon.
After multiple system resets and part replacements, the system repair was unsuccessful, Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps wrote in a letter to parents on Friday. The district ordered the portable air conditioners, which were delivered from Monday.
“We hope to install these air conditioning units in the classrooms as soon as possible before installing the backup chiller by the end of next week,” Phelps said in the letter.
The high school and middle school HVAC system is an outdated and unreliable system, Phelps wrote in a letter to parents Aug. 25. The long-term solution is to replace the entire system, which would cost at least $10 million, she said.
“We attempted to fundraise for this and other aging systems in PUSD in 2020 via Measure P, a bond measure, but were unsuccessful,” she wrote.
Phelps said the issue “has been a top priority.”
“We understand that these are not ideal teaching and learning conditions for our students and staff,” she wrote. “While you have received regular updates from your managers, I wanted to assure you that staff and technicians have been working day and night over the past week to try and resolve the issue, albeit with limited success.”
“During my visits, it was clear that our students and staff were trying to make the most of things with fans in the classroom and moving outside in the shade, but again, this is not is not sustainable, nor is it the experience we want for our schools, staff or students,” she wrote.
Phelps said there was no quick fix to the problem. Repairs and spare parts are taking longer than expected, she said.
“As you know, some days the air conditioning is back on, other days it shuts off when we need it most. To put it simply, the system serving BHMS and RBHS relies on creating ice for at night to generate cool air the next day.This method is inefficient in serving both schools and sometimes the system does not produce enough ice to last the day or does not produce any ice.
Officials are awaiting an estimate from an outside company to shut down the existing system and repair the existing system’s compressor and drive line.
“In addition to the question of how to obtain this funding without a bonding measure, a replacement of the system would also involve major construction work on our school sites, which would have to take place without the presence of students or staff. she wrote. “Therefore, while this solution is being explored for the long term, we are focusing more on realistic short-term solutions that will hopefully bring some relief to our staff and students in the near future.”