Letter to the Editor: Let's invest in new HVAC system for our schools

Looking up at the Lee Academy Pilot School. Photo by Mike Ritter/Ritterbin.com

To the Editor:

As a parent at the Lee Academy Pilot School on Dunbar Avenue, I’ve been very happy with my daughters’ educations, but utterly shocked by the condition of Boston Public School buildings.

As detailed in the BuildBPS report, the vast majority of BPS schools were built before 1939, and of 127 school buildings, only 33 have air conditioning. The district had to replace 7,000 windows just to be able to open and provide ventilation during the pandemic. 

The windows —and so many other problems —were no secret before 2020. It is simply negligent to send children and teachers into schools with classroom temperatures well into the 80s in the summer and frigid in the winter because of propped windows for ventilation. 

BPS will receive $400 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the federal government.  There are numerous worthy needs that can be addressed with this money.  But, after the past 15 months of pandemic, the need for heating, ventilation and air conditioning – HVAC— upgrades is undeniable. 

In 2016, my wife and I bought our house in Dorchester and had to replace an old boiler.  We were surprised to find that with a Mass Save HEAT loan, rebates, and tax credits, we could afford an air source heat pump as its replacement.  We haven’t seen a heating bill since, thanks to our solar panels.  While a school isn’t a home, I can only imagine what volume cost-saving possibilities BPS could realize by installing HVACs.

Retrofitting BPS buildings with air source heat pump HVAC systems is one way we could address the issue.  Heat pumps can even do the impossible and make administrators “popular,” as noted by a school superintendent in Bedford, PA, who documented his district’s successful and cost-effective HVAC conversion at an elementary school on YouTube.

BPS is spending significant amounts of money that could otherwise go toward HVAC upgrades. Gas bills are expensive — $17,000 at my girls’ school for one year— and would be significantly reduced because the more efficient HVACs run on electricity. 

Sixteen heating systems and 27 ventilation systems need replacing now.  BlocPower is a company that specializes in retrofitting old, large, and typically urban buildings with HVACs.  For zero money down, BlocPower could install HVACs with 10-15-year terms, including a warranty and maintenance.  And, they would pass on any incentives and rebates to lower the purchase price.  In the long term, I’m convinced HVACs would actually save BPS money.

The school department is currently taking input from the community on how best to use the ESSER funds that will be allocated to Boston. I was dismayed to see that I was the only parent who spoke at a recent (June 10) meeting. Whether you like the HVACs or something else, there is a lack of family feedback on how to use the ESSR funds, with some schools not represented at all. 

There are two more virtual hearings scheduled, on June 24 and July 1. You can register to participate by logging onto bostonpublicschools.org/Page/8680.

If you want to know more, I’ve created a presentation and relevant links, both of which can be shared.  Let’s make BPS better for our kids with these federal funds and not let them end up in the hands of more consultants.

Mike Ritter
Dorchester

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