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Some Fresno Classrooms Are Hot, but District’s Consultant Isn’t to Blame

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The first week of school has been toasty in some Fresno Unified schools. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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Air-conditioning systems in Fresno Unified schools have struggled to keep up with 107-degree heat and high humidity levels during the first week of school.

But the fault lies with Mother Nature, and not the energy consultant, contrary to what the Fresno Teachers Association says on its Facebook page, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry said Wednesday.

The teachers union’s post claimed that the district’s consultant, Cenergistics, has raised thermostats in an effort to hold down energy consumption and costs, and will be rewarded for achieving energy savings.

The post prompted numerous responses from teachers who said their classrooms have been uncomfortably hot this week, the first week of instruction for the district.

Said teacher Mary Rosenberg: “My room is 88-89 degrees. It feels like a swamp. How can I effectively teach and how can the students learn when it is that warm? Plus, students are complaining of headaches in the afternoon. Bet the District office is cool and comfortable.”

Equipment Breakdowns

Work orders to fix air conditioning started rolling in on Monday, the first day of classes, but thus far account for less than 1% of the district’s indoor spaces, Henry said.

Bullard High’s volleyball game had to be canceled Tuesday when a pump burned out, but the pump was replaced within two hours, she said.

“Some of our older infrastructure struggles when we have this level of heat wave, and the humidity brings discomfort levels to our folks even if the AC is keeping the temperatures cool,” Henry said.

The district also has had to contend with copper wire thefts that caused whole chillers to fail at Sunnyside and Hoover high schools. “What the theft probably gained in $25 worth of copper, we are now paying tens of thousands of dollars to replace chillers which take time to deliver and be installed,” she said.

Thermostat Settings Adjusted

But Henry acknowledged that the district’s contract with Cenergistics could have contributed to some hotter classrooms. The company recommends setting thermostats at 74 degrees, plus or minus 2 degrees during school hours, turning thermostats up to 90 degrees when spaces are unoccupied, and later morning start times for starting up air conditioning.

“We believe the set points are right, however, we are taking things on a case-by-case basis to override those recommendations of the unoccupied temperature set points and turning on ACs earlier in places where infrastructure is older and struggling with this level of heat,” she said. “We expect our warmer classrooms will start to feel some cooler temperatures as they get into their classrooms in the mornings very soon.”

As a last resort, some classes have been moved to cooler spaces, she said.

Henry rejected the union’s assertion that the consultant is in charge of the thermostats. While the company does have full access to the controls, “to say they have full control is just outright false,” she said. “Fresno Unified has the sole control and authority to implement or override the recommendations set by Cenergistics.”

Cenergistics’ Contract with FUSD

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email