Roughly 70,000 students will head back to school on Wednesday, and 18 campuses across the district are still without air conditioning.

As temperatures soar this week (they are expected to cool to the low 80s by Wednesday), the Long Beach Unified School District will test several heat mitigation strategies it has implemented at schools throughout the summer.

The district has made it clear that installing Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems at all LBUSD campuses is a top priority, even going so far as to move up projected timeline by two years after parents and teachers spoke out about the extreme conditions their students were facing during last year’s heatwave. Temperatures in classrooms soared as high as 97 degrees.

The new timeline, which was updated in November, shows the district is on track to complete all HVAC instillation within the next four years. Measure E was approved in 2016 in part to fund HVAC upgrades across the district and since then, 32 schools have received upgrades in what Executive Director of Facilities Development and Planning David Miranda called an “aggressive yet manageable approach,” during a facilities update presentation to the school board on July 26.

Worker installing HVAC system in a LBUSD classroom in 2022. Adding air-conditioning to schools will continue through 2027. Photo courtesy of LBUSD.

The following is an updated list of the expected HVAC installation completion at the remaining schools:

  • 2023-2024: Birney Elementary, Emerson Elementary, Gompers Elementary, Stanford Middle School.
  • 2024-2025: Millikan High School, Gant Elementary, Tincher Preparatory.
  • 2025-2026: Los Cerritos Elementary, Buffum Total Learning Center, Henry Elementary, Hoover Middle School, Carver Elementary, Marshall Middle School.
  • 2026-2027: Sato Academy, Monroe Elementary, Tucker Special Education, Beach Elementary, Burroughs Head Start.

The list does not include Poly High School or Washington Middle School, which will undergo major transformations that are set to begin in 2024.

At the July 26 meeting, LBUSD facilities presented the plan along with several heat mitigation efforts across campuses that don’t currently have air conditioning. The strategies include box fans and chilled water dispensers in every classroom, window coverings like blinds and tints to block out heat, and large industrial pedestal fans for hallways.

Other strategies include outdoor water misters to be used during lunch at Carver and Henry elementary schools. Throughout the first week of school, the district will test the effectiveness of the misters and determine whether it is effective to install them at other schools.

The fastest and most effective way to address the heat in classrooms would be to install portable or windows air conditioning units, but the district does not have the electrical infrastructure to do so, according to Dave Van West, director is maintenance for the district.

“There isn’t any additional capacity (for electrical infrastructure) at many of the sites,” he said.

Generators would pose a threat to safety because of the wires that would need to run through classrooms and hallways and, on top of that they’d be noisy, Van West said. And battery operated generators, though smaller and less noisy, would likely not be able to handle powering an air conditioning unit big enough to cool a classroom.

At the board meeting, however, Van West said the maintenance department would look further into the option of larger, battery powered generators.

“At the end of the day, our heat challenges are not going anywhere. If anything, these mitigation efforts will need to increase,” said board member Juan Benitez. “…shading, tinting, blinds, can only do so much.”