Hot talk in D97

Opinion: Columns

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It was hot last week. Hot, humid, thoroughly uncomfortable. And if that is how it felt to those of us who spent the week thoroughly air conditioned, we know it was actively miserable and fairly unproductive in Oak Park's elementary school classrooms where air conditioning is pretty rare.

But four hot days in September is not a good reason for taxpayers to pay millions and millions to cool classrooms in eight older buildings. Imagine the uproar if the decision were made to retrofit our 1920s-era school buildings for central air while the academic achievement challenges we face for many students remain, while the technology revolution we embrace in classrooms still needs funding, while, overall, Oak Park taxpayers bend and snap under still-rising property taxes.

We understand the angst of parents with small kids sweltering in classrooms. But with the cautions already adopted by the district — extra fans, plenty of water hauled in, added breaks — the kids will be OK. And, of course, parents with heightened concerns always have the option of keeping their kids home for a couple of days. In the long slog of grammar school, a couple of missed days won't hurt too much.

Should the school district revisit its policies on extreme heat and consider the option of closing up for a day or two when the heat and humidity reach very high levels? That works for us. As the district continues to gradually renovate these old buildings, should it look for added ways to create cool pockets? Obviously, yes. Are there odd spaces in the district — the third floor at Longfellow sounds pretty hellish — that need more immediate fixes? Maybe so.

But this is a district balancing many demands. Spending millions to solve a problem that only occurs for a few days every couple of years does not make sense to us.


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