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Ottawa classrooms swelter in extreme heat

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Ottawa's largest school board is dealing with sweltering temperatures in some of its classrooms, but says outside of adding fans or designated cooling areas, there is not much it can do.

The capital is under a heat warning this week, with temperatures in the low 30s and humidex values in the 40s expected to last through Thursday. On Tuesday, it felt like 43 degrees in Ottawa.

Classes are still on at Ottawa schools, despite many classrooms lacking air conditioning.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says all of its schools have at least one area with partial or portable air conditioning, such as the gym, the main office, or the library.

"These spaces can assist in offering cool off spaces in buildings that are not fully air conditioned," a statement from the school board said.

The board says only five per cent of its schools have no central air conditioning. Twenty-five per cent have air conditioning in some capacity, but not in classrooms, and 70 per cent have AC in "some or all learning spaces."

The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) is in a similar place.

"We have about half of our 89 schools with 100 per cent air conditioning," says OCSB director of education Tom D'Amico. "The other, 70 per cent of that property has some level of air conditioning. So really, the challenge is our older schools. In the older schools that don't have any air conditioning in the classroom, they all have large spaces that are air conditioned."

Parents keeping kids home

Some parents have decided not to send their kids to school because of the heat.

John Gomes says he's worried about his children's safety.

"They're home today and they're home tomorrow until the temperature breaks," he tells CTV News Ottawa.

Some of the classrooms at his kids' school, Manor Park Public School, don't have AC. At one point during the day Tuesday, the temperature in some classrooms there reached 30 C.

At Manor Park Public School, the temperature in some classrooms reached 30 C on June 18, 2024. (Supplied)

"I'm glad I'm home because it's really hot," says Tate Gomes, in Grade 3. "We have two fans in my class but one doesn't work."

One member of the family, however, does not have the luxury of staying home. Mom Meghan Gomes is a teacher.

"This morning, when I came into my classroom, it was 26 degrees," she says.

She said she opened the windows to get some airflow, but knows it is only a minor reprieve.

"When we put 20-something little bodies in there, it's going to heat up even more."

School boards say they have made progress on installing air conditioning in their schools. The OCDSB says in 2017, 34 per cent of schools had no central air, but that number has since dropped to 5 per cent.

"Looking ahead, we have an additional $6.8 million planned in cooling work over the summer at 12 sites and we are working on a three-year plan to evaluate and develop options for those schools with the least amount of cooling in the system," the board says.

But teachers and parents say they need help now.

"More needs to be done in the immediate, right now, to keep it as safe," Meghan Gomes said.

Some parents have offered extra AC units to schools, but school boards say it's not that simple. There are polices to follow and liabilities to consider. Upgrading older schools in particular is an expensive and time consuming process that must be done in the summer, when kids aren't in class.

Correction

A previous version of this article said 34 per cent of OCDSB schools had no AC at all in 2017. The figure refers to schools that did not have central air conditioning, specifically.

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