Stafford County Public School staff will install air conditioning in three school kitchens and 100 school buses prior to the start of the 2020–21 school year in early August.
The Board of Supervisors last week approved the school division’s request to use $4 million in savings from fiscal year 2019 to install air conditioning in the kitchens at Widewater, Ferry Farm and Park Ridge elementary schools—as well as retrofit 100 school buses with air conditioning, purchase five new buses and install a voice-over-IP phone system.
The cost of the bus-related projects is $1.5 million. The phone and kitchen air conditioning projects will cost $2.5 million, according to the approved funding request.
Last summer, before the start of school, Supervisors Tom Coen and Jack Cavalier—who is no longer on the board—requested a list of all schools in the division without a cooling system in the kitchen.
In addition to the three that will be updated this year, kitchens at Hartwood, Rocky Run, Rockhill, Winding Creek and Hampton Oaks elementary schools, Drew Middle School and North Stafford High do not have air conditioning.
North Stafford High School’s kitchen will get air conditioning as part of a mechanical system project that is scheduled for the school next winter or the following summer.
In September, the Stafford County School Board approved requesting $1.6 million in carryover funds to install air conditioning in all nine remaining school kitchens.
But in January, the School Board amended its request to direct more of the carryover funds toward installing air conditioning in buses and adopt a phased approach to kitchen air conditioning.
School division staff took temperature readings in each of the kitchens and determined that Park Ridge, Widewater and Ferry Farm had the most need, according to the minutes of the School Board’s Jan. 28 meeting.
Temperatures in those kitchens ranged from 81 to 90 degrees, according to a Feb. 18 letter from school staff to County Administrator Tom Foley.
Drew and Stafford Middle School kitchens are next on the priority list, according to the letter, “based on the low cost and ease to create an adequate cooling environment at those schools.”
The work can be accomplished by school division staff, the letter says.
The kitchens at Rocky Run, Hartwood, Hampton Oaks and Winding Creek elementary schools will be addressed in the summer of 2021 “or afterwards depending on funding,” according to the letter.
Rocky Run’s kitchen had some of the highest temperatures this past August, but it can’t be updated this summer because it will be used for summer school this year, the letter says.
At last Tuesday’s board meeting, Coen said he was “disconcerted” that the schools initially said they would install air conditioning in all buildings this summer and then changed that plan.
“Quite honestly, the decision to start school at the beginning of August, when you knew kitchens did not have air conditioning and school buses did not have air conditioning that is adequate is a really interesting question,” he said.
Coen said he wanted to defer a decision on using the carryover funds to spend more time gathering information. He said the board received the letter about how the kitchens were prioritized without enough time to read it before voting on the request.
School division superintendent Scott Kizner said that following the initial request of $1.6 million to do all the kitchens, “there was great question whether we gave you the right numbers.”
Kizner also said “thousands” of children are affected by riding to and from school in non-air conditioned buses. He said the school division spent “thousands of dollars” on water to give to children on the buses and that several children had to be removed from buses due to heat exhaustion.
“My priority will always be where the children are,” Kizner said. “I was surprised, as superintendent that summer, that we had buses in Stafford, Virginia, that didn’t have AC. I’m just being honest with you. This is the first place I’ve worked [that didn’t have air-conditioned buses].”
Kizner said all buses the school division has purchased since 2018 do have air conditioning.
Once the 100 buses are retrofitted with air conditioning this summer, there will be 71 buses in the fleet without.