Old school buildings no match for cold weather

Portland district officials aware of cold classrooms from aging equipment

Kids on a school playground at a Portland school, January 5, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the record-cold drapes over the region, some teachers in Portland reported chilly classrooms and students — and parents who contacted KOIN 6 News say the district should be doing more.

David Hobbs, the Senior Director for Facilities for Portland Public Schools, said there were heat-related issues at 50 to 60 schools this week.

On Thursday, a teacher at Stephenson Elementary sent a note to parents that their classroom was getting colder every day this week. The teacher warned parents to bundle up their kids and said they’d keep their jackets on until things warmed up.

Cheyenne Little, a 1st-grade classroom volunteer at Marysville Elementary School, told KOIN 6 News “it was, like, 39 this morning in the classroom.”

She said the teacher used a space heater in the classroom, and that “sometimes during reading the kids have their coats and gloves on.”

At Marysville, there are 2 HVAC systems, one in the old part of the building, the other in the area rebuilt after a 2009 fire. Hobbs said a contractor was sent in Wednesday to address some of the problems, adding maintenance crews are doing the best they can to keep up.

David Hobbs, the Senior Director for Facilities for Portland Public Schools, January 5, 2017 (KOIN)
David Hobbs, the Senior Director for Facilities for Portland Public Schools, January 5, 2017 (KOIN)

“We’ve got kind of a variety of cold issues in our schools across the district,” Hobbs told KOIN 6 News. “A lot of that is caused by our older buildings. We have a variety of sources for those heating problems, a cominbation of controls issues and old and outdated equipment and failing equipment.”

Depending on the situation, he said some classrooms are given portable heaters. Another option is to move students to another classroom when there’s room.

“We’ve got very old boilers. They do get rebuilt every couple of years and we do maintenance on them on a routine basis because that is the hub of our heating for our schools,” Hobbs said. “So we have failures that occur there on occasion. We have electrical problems with motors on occasion. We have problems with dampers that close and freeze shut all because of the age of the buildings. We have challenges with our controls systems.”

District officials told KOIN 6 News they want to know if a parent believes their child’s classroom is too cold — and to tell your school’s principal.

The bottom line, Hobbs said: more money is needed to upgrade aging facilities.