Study: Md. public schools will need to spend $818 million to cool classrooms by 2025

New research estimates that more than 280 Maryland public schools that did not require air conditioning in 1970 would have to spend $ 818 million by 2025 to install new heating and cooling systems.

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As climate change leads to warmer days across the country, the cost of cooling public school buildings is increasing. New research estimates that more than 280 Maryland public schools that did not require air conditioning in 1970 would have to spend $ 818 million by 2025 to install new heating and cooling systems to keep classrooms at a safe temperature.

These schools may also have to spend an additional $ 32.8 million each year to operate and maintain the HVAC systems, affecting more than 900,000 students, according to the US government. report from the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental activist group. And those costs are expected to increase as the climate continues to warm.

Montgomery County Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, is experiencing the highest cost increases. The school system is expected to experience 14 more “heat days” per year by 2025 than it did in 1970. Heat days are defined in the report as a day above 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the school year, between September 1 and June 15; According to the report, there will be 49 “heat days” in Montgomery County every year by 2025.

The report set a 32-day threshold above 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the school year as the point at which air conditioning is needed, based on technical protocols, peer-reviewed studies examining the relationship between heat and learning, and actual practice in school systems across the country.

Garrett is the only Maryland county projected to have less than 32 heat days by 2025. The county is expected to see 12 additional school days in excess of 80 degrees by 2025 than in 1970, for a total of 21 days.

Wicomico and Frederick counties are expected to see the highest increase in annual heat days: 17 additional school days. Charles County is expected to have the most hot days during the school year: 53.

The report states that more than 17,000 public schools across the country that did not require cooling systems in 1970 will need them by 2025. According to the report, this will cost $ 45 billion to install HVAC systems by 2025. The average public school building is about 40 years old, built at a time when cooling systems were not needed for the school year.

In addition, approximately 16,000 additional schools will have to upgrade their existing HVAC system to improve their cooling capacity, which will cost more than $ 530 million. The school districts of New York City and Chicago are estimated to bear the highest cost of more than $ 1 billion by 2025 for new HVAC system upgrades.

“Climate change is inexorable. Regardless of competing priorities, as the school year progresses, school systems will need to install and operate air conditioning systems to maintain a livable learning environment for millions of students, ”Sverre LeRoy, climate scientist at the Center for Climate Integrity, and lead author of the study, said in a statement .

The Accountability Office of the United States Government found it that more than half of the country’s schools need to replace at least two major building systems, including heating and cooling systems. But according to the Government Accountability Office, about 40% of school districts across the country cannot collect property taxes and instead rely on government money for building improvements.

Hot classrooms hinder student learning, and a study Harvard University evaluated 10 million students who had taken the PSAT and found that warmer school days in the year leading up to the test reduced learning ability, especially for low-income and minority students. The study concluded that every 1 degree increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by 1%.

The Center for Climate Integrity also found that Baltimore City mainly lags other school districts in the state in keeping classrooms cool, such as 24 of the city’s public schools are forced to close on very hot days due to lack of air conditioning.

As our climate warms and extreme heat becomes more frequent and severe, students in the city of Baltimore – especially in low-income neighborhoods and colored communities already threatened at school by toxic air pollution in the neighborhood – are paying the price with their health and learning , ”Said Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) in a statement.

The high costs that school systems have to bear in response to climate change should be borne by the polluters, say the report’s authors.

Already Baltimore City, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County to have lawsuits against oil and gas companies misleading the public about their role in climate change.

“While parents, officials, teachers and taxpayers grapple with the price tag and tradeoffs needed to keep schools at safe temperatures for students, we need to keep polluters to the same standard we teach our kids: if you make a mess, you have to to clean it up, “states the report.” Oil and gas executives turn up the heat in these classrooms, paying a fair share to cool them down.

While the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated federal support for air ventilation upgrades in school buildings, global warming caused warmer school days before the pandemic started, necessitating proper ventilation in schools.

“COVID-19 made good ventilation a priority, but climate change was causing the cooling crisis in US public schools,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity and a co-author of the study, in a statement.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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