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Without Air Conditioning, Columbus Students Say It's Too Hot To Think

Even after a $340,000 update to its cupola in 2018, West High School still doesn't have central air conditioning.
Debbie Holmes
Even after a $340,000 update to its cupola in 2018, West High School still doesn't have central air conditioning.

A mid-September heatwave in Central Ohio has made it difficult for some students to concentrate in class.  While many suburban districts boast air-conditioning throughout, about 30 Columbus school buildings lack a central cooling system.

Brandon Simmons, 18, is a senior at Columbus Alternative High School (CAHS). He took his frustration about heat in the classroom to the Columbus School Board this week.

“Sweat runs down your face,” Simmons said in an interview with WOSU. “It gets in your eyes.  Your eyes start to burn and your skin is sticking to the desk.  And it makes it very difficult to concentrate and focus on learning.”

Simmons questioned why the board allocates money for its members to travel out of statewhile buildings remain without air-conditioning.

“While $59,000 or $10,000 isn’t enough to air-condition a whole building, it’s really important that we scrutinize how every dollar of the taxpayers funds are spent and make sure that they’re spent responsibly and accountably,” Simmons said.

After Simmons' comments at the Tuesday school board meeting, Superintendent Talisa Dixon responded that she recognizes some of the buildings have been warmer-than-usual.

Dixon said she plans to create a study team with CCS staff and Columbus Education Association (CEA) members to look at some policies that the district can take to address weather issues, such as closing schools at times.

“It’s a tough decision to make," Dixon said during the meeting. "We have 109 buildings total and we have over 50,000 kids.”

Columbus City School officials made a five-year plan called Operation: Fix It to install more air-conditioning in classrooms, along with other building improvements.  However, CAHS is one of 14 older school buildings where officials say there are no plans to add any additional A/C.

“It has much larger needs than just the heating and air-conditioning that’s missing," says Alex Trevino, the district's director for capital improvements. "So we would really want to run it through a much more comprehensive renovation or replacement."

Simmons says he does appreciate that the district installed air conditioning inside his school’s library and cafeteria. However, he still wants to see long-term solutions.

“I can’t remember a year when someone hasn’t had some type of heat stroke and had to seek medical attention from an ambulance,” Simmons says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.