When high temperatures hit Santa Monica this September, the School District’s air conditioning technicians were overwhelmed as cooling systems at multiple school sites required urgent service, prompting the District to bring in an outside company for assistance.

At last week’s Nov. 3 School Board meeting, members approved a resolution to authorize district-wide emergency air conditioning repair and maintenance work and awarded a contract for the service to the same company, Pardess Air Inc., with an anticipated cost of up to $350,000.

While Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton stressed that the September heat wave was “unprecedented,” as climate change continues to push temperatures upwards it is likely extreme heat events will continue to occur with more frequency.

Up until about five years ago, most SMMUSD buildings did not have air conditioning. Now, according to Upton, it has been installed in close to 95% of classrooms and offices, but the recent high temperatures, coupled with intense humidity and COVID protocols – which require higher levels of filtration and recommend keeping doors and windows open – have pushed the system to its limit and revealed the need for the work.

“The systems that we put in are not really quite planned to do all of those things, particularly in a hot, and especially in a humid environment,” Upton said. “A lot of the emergency repairs that we had to do had to do with going where we had excessive condensation, like I said, it was a much higher humidity than what we normally see and with the windows and doors open it really created a lot of condensation which made systems overwork and shut down.”

In line with public health guidelines Upton said the district has also installed MERV 13 filters which are capable of capturing finer particles and preventing the spread of disease through the air, but must be replaced more frequently.

“We’re filling up our filters much faster,” he said. “Usually whenever we’re using MERV 7s, MERV 9s, we replace these filters six months, every nine months. With the MERV 13s we’re now replacing those up to once every three months… so we’re having a hard time keeping up.”

Until recently the District only had two heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians on staff. A third was just hired and began work this week and Upton said they are in the process of searching for a fourth.

In addition to keeping classrooms cool, Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez raised the topic of the kitchen at Will Rogers Learning Community, which, like over half of school kitchens in the District, does not currently have air conditioning.

“We really need to look at that,” she said. “Not just that but the other areas we feel need it too.”

Upton said the issue was already in the process of being prepared as an agenda item for a future meeting.

The Board approved the emergency work authorization and awarding of the contract unanimously with a 4-0 vote. Board members Jon Kean and Craig Foster were not present at the meeting.


Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...

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