High school students already have enough to deal with; do they have to attend classes wearing winter coats? That is what some Lawrence, Mass., students had to do in early January when the heating system at Lawrence High School went on the fritz.

In fact, according to the Eagle-Tribune, the high school’s facility plant manager said the heating system had been acting up for eight days, cutting off heat to several classrooms. The paper also reported that the warranty on the HVAC system at the nine-building school had expired in the fall.

Another Massachusetts newspaper, the MetroWest Daily News, also reported on some heating system failures, this time at a high school in Natick, Mass.

The HVAC system at Natick High School is the original system from 1954. The school just recently applied to the Massachusetts School Board Authority for funds to renovate the school or build a new one

Falling apart

Two Massachusetts high schools with faulty heating systems shouldn’t be surprising, but is it acceptable? Many of the country’s public school buildings are aged relics in need of repair and renovation. A school like Natick with its original 1954 heating system is not uncommon.

I don’t believe that high school officials want their students to be freezing in winter. Teachers, school board members and superintendents do the best they can to make sure that young people are getting the education they need and deserve.

The problem is school funding. There is only so much money to go around, and for some schools, the heating and cooling system may seem incidental. There are so many expenses associated with schools, from extracurricular student activities to keeping up with technology, such as new computers and software, that many school officials may say, “The heater can wait one more school year.”

But it’s not just aging furnaces and boilers that schools need to worry about. Another common occurrence seems to be the lack of adequate indoor air quality at schools.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always running across newspaper articles or local television news stories about another schools where students and teachers are coming down with a “mysterious illness.” Most often than not, improper ventilation and “sick-building syndrome” is the culprit making children and teachers ill.

Any solution?

I wish I had a solution to the problem. Maybe some Snips readers can enlighten me as to how we can figure out a way to make sure that school buildings have efficient HVAC systems.

With all of the budgetary issues that school districts need to deal with, you have to feel sorry for school officials. This is especially true when the United States is in the midst of a recession.

In California, where I live, the state is in budget turmoil. The state legislature can’t agree on a budget, and the last one sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was vetoed because of tax hikes that were not supported by the governor’s fellow Republicans.

I don’t want to get off topic with partisan politics and state budgets. My point is that tough economic times are making it even harder for schools to get by, let alone repair their HVAC systems.

The budget problem in California has even created several scenarios where some schools are going to have to shut down because the cash is no longer there to keep them operating.

I want to wrap up this column with just one more California anecdote. Several months ago, I was watching a local news broadcast that was covering school budgetary issues in San Jose, Calif. The San Jose superintendent proposed cutting all high school athletic programs. This meant no more football, basketball, baseball, etc. Every sport would be eliminated.

The very idea of doing away with high school sports activities angered parents immensely. I don’t blame them. High school sports are a quintessential part of the school experience. And extracurricular activities from sports to school music and arts programs have been proven to help students with their test scores.

But proper heating and ventilation in schools has also been shown to raise student attendance and test scores. So when a school’s furnace goes belly up or a school board decides once again not to replace an ancient boiler, why is it that parents aren’t just as outraged? Why are parents not raising enough of a fuss about the environment their children are required to learn in? Maybe you have the answer. 

James J. Siegel is associate editor of Snips magazine.