School Directed AC program empowers schools and communities to take the lead on cooling classrooms


HIDOE is empowering schools to lead the charge on cooling classrooms using a new process designed to more quickly deploy AC in buildings that can accommodate the increased energy use.

The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is empowering schools to lead the charge on cooling classrooms using a new process designed to more quickly deploy air conditioning units in buildings that can accommodate the increased energy use.

The School Directed AC program enables school leaders to initiate the process by requesting an official electrical assessment from HIDOE’s Office of Facilities and Operations to determine where there is sufficient electrical capacity for AC in classrooms. The assessments are being done under existing heat abatement contracts using no additional funds.

“The School Directed AC program supports our mission to provide equitable and respectful learning environments for all students. It offers a new, streamlined avenue for our schools to cool down classrooms and buildings,” said Christine Shaw, Assistant Superintendent for the Office of Facilities and Operations.

Once assessments are completed, schools have a range of options to move forward, including starting to budget for the project, partnering with community groups for equipment donations, engaging area lawmakers, or seeking funds through the Department’s legislative budget request.

“We have schools that have available funding and equipment donations in the pipeline, and this program allows schools to move forward with that,” Shaw said.

HIDOE has completed electrical assessments at more than 40 schools since last fall. So far 200 energy-efficient window AC units have been installed or are in the process of being installed under the School Directed AC program at 52 schools statewide. Overall, of the roughly 11,000 HIDOE classrooms in the state, about 6,200 currently have AC.

“In the past, schools have had the ability to install AC, but the responsibility was on them to do an electrical capacity study,” said HIDOE Public Works Administrator John Chung. “Under School Directed AC, we’re able to tell schools which buildings they can install in and how many units they can put in.”

With additional AC units coming online, the Department’s energy consumption continues to be regulated under state law to increase energy conservation and sustainability. HIDOE recently completed a large-scale project to replace 700,000 lightbulbs at all Oahu schools with high-efficiency LED bulbs to reduce electrical load; similar work is underway at Neighbor Island schools.

As part of Gov. David Ige’s 2016 initiative to cool 1,000 classrooms using $100 million appropriated by the Legislature, the Department installed air conditioning for 1,300 classrooms. Unlike some of the complex solar-powered systems designed and installed under that initiative, HIDOE is only allowing energy-efficient window AC units under the School Directed AC program to help control upfront costs and future maintenance.

“These are less complex units from installation to maintenance, where we’re not having to tear down walls or install solar panels or battery systems. It will be easier for our schools to maintain these units rather than having to contract out for maintenance service,” Assistant Superintendent Shaw said.

The School Directed AC program replaces former guidance on accepting and installing donated AC units that required approvals by multiple offices.

Recommended equipment:

  • Capacity: Two 2-ton (24,000 BTU/h) units for a typical 900 square-foot classroom.
  • Technology: Dual inverter or commercial grade.
  • Energy efficiency: Energy Star certified.


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