Austin ISD tackling hundreds of air-conditioning work orders this school year

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As record high temperatures hit Austin, some parents are still concerned about classrooms without functioning air-conditioning a month into the school year.

“It just feels like there has been a lot of catching up to do, when we knew all of this was coming,” said Lauren Ward, whose kids attend Murchison Middle and Anderson High schools.

According to data from the Austin Independent School District, 700 work orders for HVAC issues were filed at 109 different campuses in the first two weeks of school, from August 17 to 30.

Twenty-five schools account for half of all of the work orders submitted during that same two-week time frame.

At the time, a spokesperson for the district explained that more than 200 work orders had already been addressed.

“In many of these cases, we have to reset the chiller unit or make adjustments to the room temperature. These are not system failures but rather operational controls that must be adjusted as the school comes online for the school year,” they said.

On average, they said the district’s Service Center responds to more than 65,000 work orders a year with the majority being HVAC-related. Work orders are often submitted at the classroom level, which is why they say some campuses show multiple work orders for the same issues.

The spokesperson did also note that older campuses tend to face more HVAC issues. Previously, the district had also cited supply chain and parts shortages in the HVAC industry, as well.

The district spokesperson said they were facing several obstacles in particular this year:

  • “Winter Storm Uri damaged many of our systems and has caused a slow down of the typical annual maintenance work that would occur over the spring semester.”
  • “The pandemic has impacted the construction market significantly.  We are seeing higher costs for equipment, but more importantly, it is taking significantly longer to receive the replacement parts.  This slows down our ability to perform the work.”
  • “Many of our building HVAC systems are aged and are running at full capacity all day and night to cool each space. This, coupled with more open windows to improve circulation due to COVID-19 concerns, stresses these systems where they begin to experience failures.”

Still, Ward told KXAN that her worries extend beyond just the air-conditioning woes, and she expects that her main concerns won’t disappear with the heat this fall.

“There were open pits. There were unfinished driveways. The first week of school there was nowhere to safely pick up your kids,” she said. “They had left construction equipment around. I found a pick-axe while I was here.”

She referred to construction that was mostly left behind after extensive facility upgrades to Murchison Middle School’s campus and grounds, using money passed in a 2017 bond election.

“We are very thankful, but it feels like AISD didn’t quite close it out in time,” she said.

Ward serves on the middle school’s PTA, working primarily on the facility grounds and helping with projects such as the community garden.

She acknowledged all the funding and time that went into these projects, saying she was grateful for Murchison and district-wide staff. Still, she just hopes to see more communication and transparency moving forward — especially as more upgrades are planned for the district.

“It’s not all a big deal, but it’s just a consistent frustration with understanding and communicating timelines,” she said.

AISD officials are currently gathering community feedback on more facility updates and “long-range” plans for the district, ahead of another possible bond election in 2022. According to their website, they hope to learn more about the experiences of AISD families during the last bond process “that have led to broken trust with us.”

Last week, they held a series of meetings, where parents and advocates asked for more transparency, compared to the last bond process in 2017.

“This is about giving the community the space to tell us how we’ve eroded trust in the past, and how we can earn it back,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said, according to a release from the district. “We want you — our community — to not just hear that this time is going to be different, but rather to actually feel it.”

  • For more details on AISD’s long-range plans, click here.
  • A screengrab from Austin ISD Long-range Planning StoryMap Collection, detailing their goals and plans for changes at district facilities.
  • A screengrab from Austin ISD Long-range Planning StoryMap Collection, detailing their goals and plans for changes at district facilities.

KXAN’s Christopher Adams contributed to this report.

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