Boiling points: Extreme classroom temperatures overwhelm faculty and students

By Maggie Kelly


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During the week of September 6, the Weather Channel observed a 90 degree high temperature on that Tuesday and a high of a mere 67 degrees that Thursday.         

The variation in temperatures was also present inside La Roche College.

Walking into the auxiliary or AB building, there was a noticeable climb in temperature that week. It was 82 degrees in room 308, while the temperature in the faculty offices was 64 degrees. That is an 18 degree difference between two places in one building in the matter of only a few minutes.

©Michelle Bauer

”It’s hard to teach when it’s hot, but it’s even harder to learn,“ Mark Dawson, associate professor and chair of the accounting and finance department, said.

At least during the fall, students and faculty are able to brave the temperatures with jackets, sweaters, or even space heaters. However, nothing truly compares to the oppressive heat that made classrooms terribly uncomfortable this past summer.

”In the summer, it was just the hottest I think it’s ever been up there, and that was my tenth summer here. It’s been hot before, but I never remember it being that hot,“ Dawson said.

Dawson said he encountered a situation with one of his students that was a true testament to the oppressive heat.

”Monday night, I had a class of six males, three of them were from Saudi Arabia. And the fact that those kids from Saudi Arabia said to me, ‘Man, it’s hot in here!’ I thought, you’re from Saudi Arabia, you should be comfortable. I just couldn’t get over a kid from the desert telling me how hot it was in my classroom,“ he said.

Vice President for Administrative Services George Zaffuto explained that this summer’s renovation projects created air conditioning issues. He said, ”This was a summer with a lot of 90 degree days, which was particularly challenging this year. And we had major renovations to more than two areas. Some of that renovation had an effect also. Those two factors were probably the biggest difference over any other year.“

Certain classrooms experienced a lack of air conditioning over the summer. According to the College’s HVAC technician Chris Vojtko, La Roche had to shut down the Science Center system during the John J. Wright library renovations. ”They run off the same chiller,“ he said.

Some summer students and faculty saw that the College made an effort to make up for the rising temperatures, but not all. As attempts to beat the heat, fans were placed in various classrooms throughout the school, and cold beverages that warmed up too quickly were present in many hallways.

”It was like walking behind a bus because it was just blowing hot air around,“ Dawson said about the classrooms’ fans. ”A nice gesture, good intentions, but the problem was bigger than that.“

Dawson also advised students to ”dress however you want, just don’t get arrested“ in order to be somewhat comfortable in class.

He also noted that a fellow faculty members took a discouraging temperature reading at one point over the summer semester.

”A particular faculty member told me that, in his summer class, he took a thermometer, himself, and it was 97. I can’t verify that, but I have no reason to disbelieve him,“ he said.

Zaffuto stated that the air conditioning was running by the time the academic year started. He said, ”We had a deadline and a goal of having all that done. The major components for when the students were back. We achieved that.“

Looking forward, regulating temperatures in the school is a balancing act that requires careful attention to the outside temperatures. Currently, according to a recent campus-wide e-mail, the College is transitioning from air conditioning to heat.

”There’s large areas that it can take a week for it to cool down. And then once it’s cooled down, it could take a week for it to heat back up,“ Zaffuto said. ”What we’ve tried to explain to people, mostly the employees over time, is that we have a system that, when the cold air is coming, the cold air is coming. So, if we’re going to get a 60 degree day, it’s not like your home where you go turn your thermostat off or down. We’re still blowing cold.“

At this point, it is not the high temperatures that are an issue, but the extremely cool temperatures in the buildings. When the air conditioning is actually on, higher temperatures cause the system to work overtime.

”Actually, most of these systems aren’t designed to run at an ambient above like 85. And when they do, your pressures go up, creates more friction, more heat. That’s when stuff starts to fail,“ Vojtko said.

The systems are the various air and heat units used throughout the school. The classroom buildings all run off of one central unit, while the residence halls, with the exception of Bold I and II, use individual systems in every room.

Zaffuto explained that there is more than one system in the school. ”There’s many systems throughout the college. There are systems that do more than one building; there are systems that only do a building. The residence halls all have individual units. It varies greatly. You would never see a [single] situation in the college, that’s virtually impossible,“ Zaffuto said.

In the individual classrooms, using the AB building as an example, the rooms are outfitted with units that are what Zaffuto calls, ”the end result of a larger system.“

Some professors and students who noticed warmer classrooms have turned to opening windows in order to cool down. Vojtko stated that this could cause more harm than good.

”That actually throws our whole computer system off because we have room sensors. As soon as they open the windows, all the hot air is coming in, and my room sensor says its 78 degrees in there. So, I automatically think something is wrong with the unit and go down there. Nothing’s wrong with it. All the windows are open, and the air is going outside,“ he said.

Vojtko added that temperatures will not be immediately comfortable when the systems change over to heat in the coming months. ”It’s actually like a three or four day process to switch over. Because there’s a whole line of protocol you have to go to switch over, which is universal anywhere you go,“ he said.

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