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North Hills Middle School will be last in district for cooldown

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Kirsten Bogniard's daughter sweats it out playing basketball at North Hills Middle School.

The heat caused by exertion is compounded by the eighth-grader playing in a gym in a school without air conditioning, said Bogniard, a Ross resident.

“It's extremely hot in there,” she said.

Most of the school in Ross will be cooled off in September 2015 when installation of a $7 million air conditioning system is complete, although the gym won't be air conditioned. The school, built in the late 1950s, is the last North Hills school to get air conditioning, said David Hall, the district's director of finance and operations.

It's rare for schools in the Northeast not to have air conditioning, said Irene Nigaglioni, chairwoman of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a partner at PBK Architects in Dallas.

Of 308 Pennsylvania school districts and other educational entities that responded to a survey about the 2007-08 school year, 41 percent reported having air conditioning building-wide, 44 percent had limited areas of air conditioning, and 15 percent had no air conditioning, according to the state Department of Education.

“It's an expectation now, I believe. I mean, almost any public building you go in now has air conditioning,” said Bogniard, whose 10-year-old son will be a student at the middle school when the project is done.

In 1998, the district began renovating its schools, none of which had air conditioning, Hall said. In 2005, it began adding air conditioning, starting with the high school.

“So that has been our intention and heavily discussed and promised to everybody through our whole facility renovation program that's been going on since the early 2000s,” he said.

Adding an air-conditioning system to a school is an expensive, invasive undertaking, Hall said.

“It's a major project that includes big water chiller units, running piping through the buildings, replacing all the unit ventilation in every classroom,” he said.

The middle school work will include installation of security cameras in the building and parking areas, replacement of flooring in some classrooms, the addition of a security entrance and mitigation of radon, he said.

The work, including the air conditioning system, will cost about $8 million, Hall said. The work starts in May.

At its meeting Monday, the school board approved awarding a construction management contract to Thomas & Williamson Program Management in Ross.

The work is being paid for with savings accrued over several years and proceeds from the sales of two former schools: Northway Elementary School, sold for $2.6 million in July, and Perrysville Elementary School, sold for $630,000 in January 2012, Hall said.

A lack of air conditioning in a school can do more than make students uncomfortable. It can affect students' academic performance, experts said.

Thermal comfort, ventilation and good indoor air quality are critical to establishing an optimal classroom environment, Nigaglioni said.

“It's the same as the workplace because it's going to affect the way people work,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662.

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