Story by Gustavo Ortega. Photo and infographic by Crystal Niebla
LONG BEACH, Calif — High school sophomore Hannah Doroteo can’t concentrate inside her second-floor history class at Lakewood High School because the classroom is just too hot at 1:38 p.m. To assuage the heat, her peers crowd around a fan their teacher bought them.
About seven miles south, Eric Estrada, a senior at Polytechnic High School, deals with the same problems of not having air-conditioning in some of the bungalow classrooms.
“In the spring and summertime, it’s hot and kind of makes it miserable to be there,” Estrada said.
Air-conditioning is just one of the many improvements students like Doroteo and Estrada need more of. That’s why in November, Long Beach voters approved Measure E, a $1.5 billion bond project that will repair and upgrade schools in Long Beach. Renovations include new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, lighting, fire alarms and other major upgrades in all classrooms and sports facilities that need it.
For many students and faculty, these school improvements were long overdue.
“We have kindergarten students with nosebleeds and headaches because they are expected to learn in 95-degree classrooms,” said Chris Callopy, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, a school employee union.
Leading up to the November vote, Callopy asked union members to take pictures of their classroom thermometers on hot days as part of a campaign to show how bad staff and students have it, hoping it would convince voters to support Measure E.
“A few local newsgroups picked up the story of students and teachers overheating,” he said. However, the motion to fund upgrades wasn’t always popular.
This project was brought up in 2008, but the teacher’s association and the district couldn’t get the support of the voters. Despite the obstacles previously faced, Callopy said he was amazed by the support the community has for the schools.
“The organization is proud to have helped pass an infrastructure bond,” Callopy said. “It improves the quality of the learning environment for education and the working conditions of our members.”
The latest school bond comes on top of previous ones still being paid off — Measure K and Measure A. Despite the revenue coming into schools, however, air-conditioning improvements won’t begin until 2018. So between now and the upgrades classrooms will essentially have to find other ways to deal with any heat waves.
In attempt to accommodate students and staff, 15 year-round schools that typically have classes during the summer will become traditional, ending the school year on July 26.
Summer school will also be adjusted so that classes are “dismissed before peak afternoon heat,” said Vivien Hao via email, an LBUSD communications official.
Hao added that the district’s plans for this fall and beyond include installing “air-conditioned portable classrooms to house students” while their own campuses are being upgraded. The district also wants to be less disruptive for the students during construction by placing them in interim classrooms or on a nearby campus.
Alan Reising, executive director of Facilities Planning and Development for LBUSD, said the major constructions will require a minimum of 18 to 24 months for completion. The project is expected to last at least eight years until all classrooms have new heating and air-conditioning systems. The Facility Master Plan will prioritize projects for the schools with the greatest needs first, while setting long-term goals for future upgrades.
“Due to the size and large student population,” Reising said, “we divided the projects into phases to minimize disruption to education.”
Part of the Master Plan also sets goals for technology upgrades to help meet 21st century standards.
“Renovations and repairs will enhance the learning environment, improve safety and security, and provide technological advances that enable students to meet their full potential,” Reising said.
Kyle Monte, a junior from Wilson High School, was not that familiar with the Measure E project, but knew firsthand that certain areas of the school needed remodeling. He thought it would have been helpful to be more informed about why things are happening at school, but he knows that the upgrades will ultimately make the facilities nicer.
“I think the progress was a little slow,” Monte said about the pace of the upgrades in schools. “But, it won’t affect me in the long-run because we’re graduating soon.”
Crystal Niebla contributed to this report.