The unseasonably hot weather during the first few weeks of school have caused headaches and some sweaty brows in Watertown’s schools, and the problem will not likely be solved until schools can be renovated or replaced.
The heat got so bad one day that parents of Hosmer Elementary School students were given the option to take their children out of class. About 150 students went home that day, said Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald.
“We have never done that before, but we have never had that sort of heat,” Fitzgerald said.
School officials did not dismiss Hosmer because they did not want children whose parents could not pick them up to sit at home alone. Fitzgerald said she did hear from some parents.
“I heard comments that we weren’t ready for the heat,” Fitzgerald said. “I would welcome the budget to pay for air conditioning.”
School Committee member Michael Shepard noted that the heat is unusual for this time of year.
“It is 10 to 15 degrees hotter than average,” Shepard said. “You can’t plan for that.”
Other schools suffered in the heat, particularly the High School and Middle School, but not as bad as Hosmer. Cunniff Elementary has an air conditioned cafeteria and library, and Lowell Elementary has some areas to stay cool in, Fitzgerald said, so they did not face as extreme heat.
An opportunity may be coming up for schools to install air conditioning. Watertown Public School officials plan to upgrade or replace all the schools in Watertown. A consultant hired by the district recommended that the first school to be renovated or replaced should be Watertown High School.
The district applied last year, but did not get approval from the Massachusetts School Building Administration (MSBA). Fitzgerald has hopes that the project will be chosen this year, when she discussed her goals for the 2015-16 school year.
“I’m not sure this should be a goal,” Fitzgerald said. “If … I should say, when we are approved by the MSBA it is very prescriptive. They spell out the steps. I can’t make it up”
Fitzgerald said the MSBA will vote on the high school project in December.
“Cross your fingers,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we have a good (application).”
Hsu-Balzer said the project will not be rushed through, even if state officials approve the project.
“It will be a long road – many months, many public hearings and discussions,” Hsu-Balzer said. “Nothing will be done with out a lot of measured planning and discussion. It will be a whole town discussion.”
Ultimately, Watertown voters will be asked to fund part of the project, likely through bonds.
Meanwhile, Watertown did get approval from the MSBA to replace windows at Watertown Middle School. District Director of Business Services Charles Kellner said an owner’s project manager has been appointed, and the district hopes to submit plans for approval at the the January meeting of the MSBA board.