GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Guilford County Schools is dealing with hundreds of work orders related to HVAC maintenance.
According to Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras, there are about 540 work orders at 44 schools in the district over the past two weeks.
Contreras said old buildings (some 50-60 years old), the scorching heat, and a global HVAC supply issue are at the root of the problem. A 2018 study rated more than 50 percent of the district's facilities in poor or unsatisfactory condition.
"We can't get the parts for six to eight weeks and it's very uncomfortable in the buildings," said Contreras.
Guilford County Schools Chief Operating Officer Michelle Reed said schools also weren't closed throughout the year either so there wasn't an opportunity for preventative maintenance.
"We go out to a site, we may address it and then we may have to come back out because there may be another failure at that site," said Reed.
On Thursday, Jamestown Middle School closed early due to the HVAC issues and the district says this may happen periodically. Schools could also move to remote learning. The district has a heat protocol that instructs principals to move students to cooler spaces when classroom temperatures reach 85 degrees. If that space is not available, the school will be closed early.
Reed said, because of COVID-19, the district can not provide fans. The district says using them goes against current public health guidance.
“Stifling classrooms are not conducive to learning, while ventilation is an important consideration in terms of preventing in-school transmission of COVID-19,” said Contreras. “As much as we want students to keep learning in-person, we will send them home if warranted.”
Dr. Contreras said there is a solution everyone can help with going forward.
"The school board does not have tax levying authority. We have no way to generate funds and it's why we plead 'please invest in public schools," said Contreras. "When you build a school, you still have to invest in the maintenance of the systems or you're going to see these sort of problems when you have what we call 'acts of god' like extreme heat and that's what we're facing right now," said Contreras.