History is repeating itself this back-to-school season as the lack of air conditioning service in Toronto-area schools is again causing anger, frustration and pain among students, teachers and parents.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is the largest board in Canada, comprising 533 elementary and high school facilities. However, a full 160 of these schools have no air conditioning at all, while another 219 have less than 50% AC coverage (which, according to this report, can mean as little as one room air conditioner).
The Toronto Catholic School Board is not in much better shape. Of its 202 schools, only 36 have central air.
Why do so few schools have air conditioning service in Toronto? The reason is twofold: the age of the facilities and their operating budgets.
The majority of TDSB schools were built over 50 years ago. Some are now over a hundred years old. Most predate the proliferation of central air conditioning, meaning they rely on hydronic heating in the winter and have no ductwork to accommodate central air in the summer.
Though it is possible to add ductwork to older buildings, it’s not cheap or easy. Even with the best HVAC installation service, retrofitting central air conditioning to heritage buildings can be costly. Ductless air conditioning systems like Spacepak are an option for smaller buildings, but not for huge school facilities.
But why weren’t these buildings equipped with some form of cooling in the first place? Why not room air conditioners, or passive cooling through smart construction choices?
The fact is extreme temperatures were not a concern back when these schools were built. By the time students returned to school in the fall, the summer highs were over for the most part. Air conditioning simply wasn’t necessary.
Today, the City of Toronto experiences about 20 days per year where the temperature exceeds 30 degrees Celcius, and the stifling heat often drags late into September. An official city report on climate change estimates that number will be 45 days a year by 2050.
The fact that the school buildings are so old leads to the second reasons why air conditioning has been an oversight: budget.
These older school buildings carry massive repair backlogs that always, always take priority over air conditioning installation. The total cost of these necessary repairs exceeds $3.5 billion. The $100 million fund earmarked for school repairs by the previous Liberal government was cancelled by the Progressive Conservative government in July.
Some teachers have offered to shell out the funds for small room air conditioners themselves; however, the school board rejects those offers on the basis that it will consume too much electricity.
Despite these challenges, it’s clear the public wants its schools to have air conditioning. A poll commissioned by Global News found that 84 of people want Ontario schools to be air conditioned.