Dozens Of Denver Schools Sweat Out Record-Breaking Heat On First Day Of School

August 19, 2019
Scenes around the Cole Arts and Science Academy.Scenes around the Cole Arts and Science Academy.Kevin J. Beaty/CPR News
Scenes around the Cole Arts and Science Academy.

Today was the first day of class for 95,000 Denver Public Schools students, and it was also a scorchingly hot day with a record-breaking high of 98 degrees. 

Of DPS’s 207 schools, 60 lack air conditioning, 15 fewer than last year. Many of the schools were built decades before air conditioning was common. Stedman Elementary in Northeast Denver was built in 1922 and is still without air conditioning.

“We have schools even older than that,” said Mark Farrandino, deputy superintendent of operations for DPS. “There’s only so much we can do so quickly. I think we’re going as quickly as we can given what the approval was of our citizen advisory committee and the voters in Denver in 2016.”  

The 2016 bond measure raised $628 million for the city’s public schools, of which $252 million went to school maintenance, including $70 million specifically for cooling solutions at the district’s hottest schools. Those funds were used to improve the 15 schools that were updated last year, but DPS estimates it would need to spend about $200 million more to put central air in all the schools without it. 

Farrandino said the district has started discussing potential 2020 measures.

“We know that funding isn’t where it should be, and we’re way below where we should be just to keep pace,” said Rob Gould, lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. “I think we’re pretty blessed in Denver to have pretty creative teachers that go through and do what they can to support their students, making sure to have plenty of water breaks and spending their own money on those fans and bringing them into school.” 

The temperature in Denver is expected to stay high in the next few days — tomorrow’s high is expected to hit 96 degrees — but it will cool off slightly later in the week.

Not to mention, as the climate warms, Colorado’s record-setting hot days are outnumbering cold days three to one.

“Of course on days like today it doesn't feel like its fast enough,” Farrandino said, “but we're making progress and things are getting better, and we will continue making the investment.”