For AC-less students, the heat is on ... again
CHAMPAIGN — Jabari Freeman comes to school each day clad in light-colored, lightweight sports clothing, with a sweat towel around his neck and an ice-cold water bottle in hand.
It's not in preparation for afterschool football practice. It's what the senior has learned he needs to survive the third-floor classrooms at Central High School this time of year.
"I bring a towel to dab sweat up a little, and I drink some water," he said. "I have to stand sometimes because eventually the heat makes me tired. So I stretch really quick so I don't go to sleep."
Learn more about heat-induced early dismissals Tuesday at 4:20 as Unit 4 spokesperson Stephanie Stuart visits with WDWS.
All of that — plus the occasional quick trip to a lower-level restroom to get a "quick whiff" of cool air — usually does the trick on days like Monday, when the heat index reached the triple digits.
Central just commenced its 76th school year without air conditioning, so adjusting schedules for heat advisories is nothing new to school administrators.
Like several schools in the area, Central dismissed classes early Monday and will do the same again today, sending students home at 1:05 p.m.
It happened Friday, too — the second day back for the full student body. Last year, seven days were cut short at Central due to heat, with students missing a combined 15.5 hours of instructional time.
"It's hard to focus because you are sitting there thinking about the heat, especially with the lights on, and you are sweating, too, because it's that hot in the school," senior Debrae Richter-Shea said. "I think it's hard for the teachers to focus, too, when it's that hot."
She's right, says Kevin Knapik, who finds it challenging to keep things together in his anatomy and biology classes when the temperatures keep rising.
"We have to be especially on our game when it is this hot," Knapik said.
Knapik, who teaches on the third floor, said he and his colleagues in the science department have come up with "extensive plans" to increase circulation in the classrooms by opening all the doors and windows, plus placing fans in the hallways.
But central air, it's not, Freeman says.
"I have one class on the third floor, that's my hottest class," he said. "They have fans in the windows trying to blow the hot air out of the room, but to me, it's just circling around and coming right back in."
If you're wondering why the school district doesn't just invest in portable air conditioners and place them in every classroom window — to make August and September a little more bearable — Jane Stillman has an answer.
"The windows in the classroom cannot support air conditioning window units either, because they open toward the inside of the building," said Central's associate principal. "In 90 percent of classrooms, there are only two outlets, so AC units would not work."
Students' best hope is at least four years — and $98 million — away. That's the approximate price tag of what a new Central High School — with a bigger parking lot, athletic fields to call its own and, yes, air conditioning — would cost. It's part of a $149 million high school facilities package the school district will ask taxpayers to approve on Nov. 4.
If they vote yes, classes could start as soon as August 2018.
Between now and then, officials say they'll host regular tours of Central, open to any resident interested in finding out first-hand what it's like inside the district's only school without AC.
Of course, it does have one advantage.
"Now that we are getting these heat days, I really don't mind that (other schools) have air conditioning," Freeman said. "I mean, it wouldn't hurt. But then again, I'm happy that we don't have air conditioning because I can come here, do my work and then I can go right back home."