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Affordable Cooling Solutions Can Keep Legacy Ohio Schools Open During Heatwaves

By: Jarret Kelley

With average temperatures last fall reaching up to 20 degrees above average and many Ohio cities setting new high-temperature records several days in a row, it’s now common to hear about Ohio districts without air conditioning having to close or dismiss early due to heat. While the changes in temperatures reach outside of Ohio’s borders, the impact is perhaps felt more in Ohio because so many actively used schools were originally constructed and operated without having to rely on air conditioning to maintain operation.

In fact, many of Ohio’s academic buildings are more than 50 years old and have outdated, undersized, or partial cooling systems if at all.

Adding significance to the preliminary study from 2018 by the National Bureau of Economic Research and Harvard finding that schoolchildren’s academic outcomes are adversely impacted by heat waves and overheated learning environments, government researchers have now announced that the 2010s were the hottest decade ever, ranking 2019 as the second hottest single year on record.

Because the long-term utilization of legacy buildings is sometimes in jeopardy with enrollment figures changing and potential bond issues on the near- or mid-term horizon, it is hard for districts to justify a large investment to add air conditioning. However, an affordable alternative to adding large, expensive cooling systems to legacy buildings is retrofitting air-conditioning with ductless mini-splits.

By utilizing ductless mini-splits, school districts are able to take advantage of a cost-effective way to add cooling to older buildings without sacrificing energy efficiency. Since many of these buildings don’t have existing ductwork in the classrooms and rely on unit ventilators and/or radiant heaters to provide heating to the space, adding mini-splits is a great option. They eliminate the need to run new ductwork, and minimize the amount of structural work required because the refrigerant lines, condensate lines, and power feeds are the only components passing through walls. This facilitates system installations with far less upfront investment than larger, multi-zone systems. Mini splits also allow for individual room control and can be tied into the larger building control system in many cases.

"I encourage school districts to act now to ensure they’re prepared to maintain a cool, comfortable learning environment for students and staff before the 2020-2021 school year begins."

Jarret Kelley is the Director of Engineering at Plug Smart. 614.230.7256 |

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