“The time to act is now,” Deerfield mom Wendy Apple told Board of Education members at Monday night’s meeting.
Apple along with several other residents attended to lobby for improved air quality in the district’s schools that lack air conditioning.
Ever since her daughter started attending Walden Elementary this school year, her asthma has gotten worse, Apple said.
“My third-grade daughter came out of school concerned that she literally couldn't breathe,” the worried mother said in recalling a hot school day in late August.
Apple said she viewed the problem as alarming since her daughter rarely had to use an inhaler to help improve her breathing during the months away from school.
“Some parents and I began to research the problem and found that this situation indeed goes way beyond mere discomfort,” she added.
Through her research, Apple said she discovered that the “air quality at school decreases with hot indoor temperatures because the heat and sunlight are essentially cooking the air along with all the chemical compounds lingering within it."
"These chemicals then are breathed in by our children, teachers and staff,” she explained in noting the risk.
In the wake of these findings, Parents Responsibly Organizing for Air Conditioning (PRO-AC) was created. According to Apple, it is “the first organized movement to improve the air quality [and] temperature in District 109 schools that is compromising our children's health, safety and academic performance."
"Our sole intention is to help ensure the district pursue modern, ecologically sound solutions that meet the physical and environmental requirements of our building code.” she said.
Since its creation recently, PRO-AC parents have bombarded the district with calls and e-mails about their concerns. The effort included Monday's large turnout at the school board meeting.
“This is an issue that can no longer be ignored,” Scott Kluge, a parent of a student, said during the public comment period. He said his son's asthma has gotten more severe since the start of school.
“The hardest part of the job was watching the kids cook,” said retired teacher Bonnie Meyers, who recalled her years working in District 109. “We cannot let our kids and teachers and staff go back to that kind of heat.”
In addition to those supporters, PRO-AC brought in an expert, Dr. Paul Detjen, whose practice in Kenilworth handles internal medicine as well as allergic and immunological medicine.
Detjen said cases of asthma were on the rise nationwide, noting their severity had increased and pointing to poor air quality as a leading contributor to asthma.
“The standard of care is to build schools with air conditioning,” he said.
In response, District 109's Steve Schwartz updated parents on facility improvements that had occurred since the 2005 referendum. Schwartz, who heads the Facility Development Committee (FDC), explained that before the referendum vote, the district conducted a survey to identify school needs and determine which were priorities for residents.
According to Schwartz, air conditioning was “low on the list.” Instead, $4 million in other renovations were undertaken and completed.
In 2008, the district also conducted a study to determine the feasibility of adding air conditioning to District 109 schools. The results put an $8.8 million price tag on installing central air conditioning.
Schwartz said his committee’s next move was to develop a long-range facility plan, which would include another look at air conditioning as well as other issues. The FDC has scheduled an October meeting with architects to start discussing the plan.
Apple stressed to the board that PRO-AC wanted to be involved in the process.
“PRO-AC can have a positive, productive role in the process by lending time and support to collaborate with the board in its pursuit of AC efficiently and cost effectively without the need for a referendum or tax increase,” she said.
Apple also mentioned that she along with other parents would be willing to start raising funds to assist with the improvements.
“I know you’re passionate and I think it’s wonderful,” board president Ellen London said at the end of discussions. “We are going to go ahead, study the issue and try to come up with a solution in the shortest time that we can.”
It was a response from district officials that Apple was thankful to hear.
“PRO-AC is encouraged that the board expressed an interest in working with its architecture firm to explore AC for its un-air conditioned schools,” she said. “We hope potential solutions and costs can be collected and shared by the next FDC meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for October."