Parents say New West's brand-new schools are too hot for learning

May 19 2023, 9:42 pm

Parents of students at two brand-new New Westminster schools say the buildings are far too hot for learning, and they want action from the government.

The buildings for New Westminster Secondary and Skwo:wech Elementary are beautiful and energy-efficient, but they have huge glass windows and don’t have air-conditioning — making classrooms stifling during unseasonably warm weeks such as this.

District Parent Advisory Council chair Laura Kwong tells Daily Hive parents have reported classroom temperatures getting as high as 31°C this month.

“It’s too hot to learn. Teachers are struggling to teach,” Kwong said. “We’ve heard that some students are going home because they’re experiencing symptoms of heat stroke.”

What’s more, now that wildfire smoke is choking the Lower Mainland as early as May and as late as October, Kwong said windows can’t be opened as easily for ventilation. She questions why the schools weren’t designed to include air-conditioning, especially as climate change makes unseasonably hot springs and falls more common.

new westminster secondary school

October 2020 construction progress of the new building for New Westminster Secondary School. (New Westminster Schools)

New Westminster Secondary’s $107 million new building opened in January 2021, the most expensive school construction project funded by the provincial government. As the only public secondary school in New Westminster, it’s a LEED Gold building designed by KMBR Architects Planners Inc., featuring passive cooling technologies — but its HVAC system only has air filtration, not cooling.

Skwo:wech was opened in June 2022 and faces similar problems, Kwong said.

“It’s clear that the design does not meet the needs of today’s climate.”

Some teachers bring in fans from home, but it’s not enough, Kwong said. She wants action from the school district and Ministry of Education on the matter, saying this is a right-now problem that will only get worse in the future. In particular, she says parents want new capital allocation to install cooling systems in schools.

Kwong’s own child learns in a portable at a different New Westminster school — and she says that’s another problem entirely. Portables also get incredibly hot, and she says parents have been asking for a long time for students to learn in proper school buildings.

New Westminster Schools issued a letter to parents Thursday acknowledging that the heat is challenging for many students in the district.

“The fact is, some of our district’s schools and learning spaces are well-equipped to manage higher temperature days, and others are not as well equipped to do so,” it said. “While each school and each classroom is unique, we know this has been particularly frustrating at both Skwo:wech and NWSS, as our two newest schools. ”

The district hopes that given the rapid climate changes seen in recent years, air conditioning retrofits may be considered by the government.

In the meantime, school administrators are purchasing new fans, closing blinds, and trying to improve airflow as best they can. In some cases, classes have moved outside or into the gym or library.

The district also asked parents to dress children in breathable clothing and give them a personal water bottle. It also suggested students bring ice packs or personal fans to school.

“If you need to keep your child home for a day or two through a hotter period, please make sure to submit the absence to your school’s office,” the district said.

The BC Ministry of Education told Daily Hive that students learn best when they’re comfortable in their classrooms, and said schools can request funding for HVAC improvements.

However, it did not answer Daily Hive’s question about whether air conditioning would be installed in either of the two sweltering schools.

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