Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy in Southwest Detroit is one of many Detroit schools without air conditioning. Late last week, the temperature outside was a cool 66 degrees, but inside the school it felt much hotter after a few days of unusually high temperatures at or near 90 degrees. Classroom windows were cracked open. Workers in the main office were still using fans to cool themselves down.

Neinas’ lack of air conditioning is not unusual in the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), where about two thirds of the schools don’t have fully functioning air conditioning. 

The district had to send students home early two days in a row last week because of the heat. 

Climate change is leading to more frequent early dismissals for “heat days.” In recent years, Detroit students have been sent home during the last few weeks of school in June due to extreme heat.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti released a statement saying the district doesn’t want to inconvenience families, but that it also doesn’t want to make staff and students uncomfortable in the heat when trying to teach and learn.

DPSCD school buildings are 60 years old on average, said Vitti. Only 23% of the district’s schools have complete air conditioning systems, and about 33% have some form of AC, he said. 

“This complicates AC and HVAC renovations because many of our currently used buildings were not designed or built for modern AC systems,” Vitti told Outlier Media. “This can mean breaking down walls and ceilings, while also increasing costs due to asbestos mitigation.”

Efforts to renovate and update AC in district schools have been underway for at least a year. Vitti said he hopes to install or improve air conditioning at nearly all of the district’s occupied schools by 2027. Last year, Vitti told Chalkbeat Detroit that all but 5% of school buildings will have AC when the project is complete. Schools that can’t accommodate an AC system may be phased out or rebuilt.

How are they paying for it? 

The school board approved spending $700 million of its $1.3 billion federal pandemic relief aid to complete multiple large-scale building renovation projects over five years. Across the district, $136 million of those funds will be used to install or improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning. 

In addition to the federal funding, the district has also used $80 million of capital funding for AC improvements, Vitti said. 

The district has an online dashboard that lists updates on its five-year master plan, which includes facility improvements. 

Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School, Bow Elementary-Middle School, Mann Learning Community, Burton International Academy, Neinas Dual Language Learning Academy and Bates Academy will have air conditioning units completed by October, according to Vitti. 

Construction is still underway at the former Northern High School as a part of the master plan to renovate the building. AC was recently installed on some floors where students are learning, Vitti said.

Four more schools are scheduled to have working AC by next summer. They are: Academy of the Americas @ Logan, Clippert Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy, John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, and Erma L. Henderson Academy.

Malak (she/her) believes in local journalism that provides people with verified and comprehensive information. Her favorite places to unwind and pick up a new read are at Detroit’s bookstores and libraries.