APS’ continuing issues with HVAC cause health concerns

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

After her first day back to school, Rebecca Davis, a middle-school English language arts teacher for gifted students, was so uncomfortably hot in her classroom that she went home and threw up.

The air conditioning in her portable at Truman Middle School wasn’t working, leaving Davis – and later her students – to swelter in a stifling classroom she estimated easily reached the upper-80s.

It’s not just portables that have an air-conditioning issue, or just her class. Others have been dealing with similarly muggy situations, she said, with one Truman teacher even going home with a heat stroke last week.

“I know there are shortages everywhere, (and) we’ve all tried to be patient,” she told the Journal. “But it’s like, ‘Please fix this, because we can’t function.’”

Albuquerque Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey said the district is working on the issue as fast as it can, with technicians working late and during weekends to resolve issues.

But with 33,000 air conditioning units across the district, it’s not just an issue of them breaking down. A lot of the time, swamp coolers are “just not doing anything,” she said, given the high humidity in Albuquerque recently.

Some air-conditioning units in portable classrooms are not functioning properly, causing issues both for teachers and students at APS schools. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“We start school in the middle of monsoon season,” she said, noting that this is a perennial issue. “(I’m) very grateful for the rain, but for our systems that are evaporative cooling, it’s just not efficient.”

Currently, there are 385 open work orders for HVAC concerns across the district, she said. Since the beginning of July, APS has addressed 2,305 work orders related to HVAC.

Sometimes, Blakey said, air conditioning units remain broken because supply chain delays force the district to wait for parts. Right now, 12 schools are waiting for parts, though she clarified that didn’t mean a dozen schools were going completely without air conditioning – just that one area of the school was.

Delivery times for replacement systems have also lagged, she said, usually by around five months.

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The district aims to have technicians respond to work orders within 48 hours, Blakey said, but sometimes there are issues with communication in the orders.

Davis said Wednesday that the air conditioning in her portable had only just been fixed – weeks after she originally flagged the problem, and only after she raised the issue with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. She didn’t know if other teachers’ situations had improved.

Blakey said that it shouldn’t take that long to fix those problems.

Union President Ellen Bernstein described the issue as urgent and one of the biggest outstanding problems this school year.

“It impacts kids’ learning,” she said. “It’s really hot and really uncomfortable. So kids have a hard time.”