COLUMBUS, Ohio—First grade teacher Nicol Lowthern has been teaching at Salem Elementary School for 14 years and it has always been miserably hot outside, with temperatures reaching more than 80 degrees around this time.
- The Columbus City School District’s Operation Fix It initiative is helping schools get air conditioning for the first time
- The goal is to upgrade and address deferred maintenance issues like air conditioning in 64 buildings that have never been rebuilt
- 20 additional schools that don't have air will get it in the next year or two
"A lot of times, they'd just get really tired and want to lay their heads down and complain about being hot. We'd have water bottles all over the place." said Lowthern.
Thursday was not just the first day of school— it was the first day she got to teach in a comfortable classroom.
"They're kind of cold in there now, they need a little jacket. But I love it ‘cause usually last year we were sweating and needed change of clothes," said Lowthern.
That's because the district's $125 million Operation Fix It initiative helped the school, built in 1962, get air conditioning for the first time.
And that's music to 10-year-old Haydenn Martin's ears. She's been at the school since first grade.
The fifth grader says, "It was hot, but we tried to manage it, but now it's like really cold, so it's funner...and it helps me learn more."
And just as Haydenn is ready to learn, Lowther says the cooler room will add teaching and learning time back that the heat often took away.
"So we're saving lots of education time you know with going to the restrooms, getting drinks," said Lowther.
District official Annette Morud says the goal's been to upgrade and address deferred maintenance issues like ventilation, electrical, security and air conditioning in 64 buildings that have never been rebuilt.
When asked why it's taken so long, she said, "Funding is always an issue because these are very very expensive upgrades."
20 additional schools that don't have air will get it in the next year or two, but there is lots more work to do.
"Most of the schools will be touched,” said Morud. “Not every school will get air conditioning. But every school will have some part of the building that's air-conditioned."
For now, those at Salem Elementary will remember this first day of school, while others wait.
Windsor Elementary and Northland High School are two other schools that have never had air conditioning. They'll get it in a few weeks.
All Operation Fix It projects in general should be complete by the 2021-22 school year.