Construction boom forcing delay in cooling public school classrooms


Dann Carlson, Assistant Superintendent for the Office of School Facilities and Support Services, penned this piece for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to provide an update on HIDOE's heat abatement efforts.

Record temperatures are on its way and in anticipation, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) is doing all it can to cool classrooms.

Gov. David Ige, the Legislature and community members have helped in this endeavor and the department is very grateful.

Although HIDOE has a heat abatement program​ in which we aim to cool school environments, our efforts went into overdrive following the governor’s request for $100 million to cool 1,000 classrooms.

At the end of January, we immediately engaged in plans to accomplish the goal of 1,000 classrooms by December 2016. We hired evaluation teams to determine the electrical capacity of our school facilities, examined the classrooms identified as being unbearably hot and repaired roofs to place photovoltaic (PV) panels for PV air conditioning.

More than 3,000 contractors were contacted to get their qualifications into the Office of School Facilities and Support Services (OSFSS). It was important for us to prequalify companies that would be doing work so that they could start as soon as the Legislature approved the funding.

Installing AC may sound like easy work; however, professional contractors must do AC installation in our schools.

Additionally, contractors must be cleared to do work around our students and staff. This means that contractors must possess good safety records and experience working in occupied buildings.

The front work done to ensure qualified contractors did not pay off as we had planned. In fact, we had far fewer applicants than we hoped for. Earlier this month, we reopened the qualification process and expanded our pool of available contractors. Unfortunately, not enough contractors are answering the call to do the work.

We started to put the projects out to bid on the same day, May 5, that the governor signed Act 47 appropriating the funds for cooling and energy efficiency. Unfortunately, our concerns about the availability of contractors due to the current high level of activity in the construction industry, was borne out.

As noted in a June 12 story by Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Allison Schaefers, the construction boom has led to higher pay but a shortage of skilled laborers and job delays.

The story also states, “As a result of the worker shortage and the boom in general, Hawaii developers are looking at higher overall project costs and delays. While the big projects are still coming, some might undergo cost-saving modifications or begin construction later than anticipated.”

HIDOE is experiencing the impact of both the shortage of workers and project delays.

The cost of the air conditioning equipment is roughly in line with what we expected but the cost of labor is extremely high. For example, one bid had the overall cost of PV-powered air conditioning per classroom at $135,000, when preliminary estimates from the industry were approximately $20,000. Prices like that would prohibit us from reaching our target of 1,000 classrooms; hence, we are pushing back the construction of the projects as we continue to solicit more bids and look for ways to significantly lower the cost. Under the circumstances, we expect a delay in reaching the target of cooling 1,000 classrooms by Dec. 31, 2016.

If we go with the bids we received so far, we will cool fewer classrooms at a price that is unacceptable.

While we are extremely disappointed with these developments, we are committed to our ongoing heat abatement efforts and will continue to push for better prices so that we can cool more classrooms, not fewer.

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