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APS Working Hard to Cool Schools Amid Major Heat Wave

Posted August 3, 2023, 7:00 AM. Updated August 2, 2023, 8:04 PM.

District manages 19 million square feet of property with 25,000 air conditioners.

Scientists say July 2023 was the hottest month on Earth since records have been kept. The sweltering summer heat is still breaking records and creating new challenges for everyone, including Albuquerque Public Schools. 

Over the past year, APS has spent more than $28 million in federal funds to upgrade school HVAC systems. The district manages 19 million square feet of property with 25,000 air conditioners and limited HVAC technicians. On any given day, there will be issues, but when you consider the responsibilities inherent in managing a district this size, the people on the front lines do a pretty good job. 

You may disagree if you are in a warm classroom. Maintaining a safe and comfortable room temperature is the expectation. Still, some circumstances can't always be controlled.

“Because most APS schools were built 50 or more years ago, most schools have evaporative coolers,” said John Dufay, APS executive director of Maintenance and Operations. “Humidity can handicap evaporative coolers, so you can’t bring the heat down more than 20 degrees. If it’s 105 degrees out and the evaporative coolers are blowing on high with humidity, you still can’t achieve a temperature below 85 degrees.”

APS technicians have been working 24/7 through the summer, testing HVAC units to pre-empt problems for the new school year. With 25,000 cooling units in use daily, there will likely be isolated problems.

"It’s important to remember that air conditioners are mechanical systems, and just like our units at home, they can be fine one day and not the next,” explained APS Chief Operations Officer Dr. Gabriella Duran. 

APS wants the school community and public to know all available technicians are working to resolve reported AC issues quickly. Still, the response time varies with the demand for services, and there are instances when repairs can’t be made because parts are unavailable. It’s also worth noting there can be multiple air conditioners running at one site, but that doesn't mean the entire system is down if one or two units have failed. In those situations, staff and students are relocated to spaces where the air conditioning is functioning.

As much as APS would like to guarantee there won’t be problems with air conditioning this year, it cannot. The district will continue to use federal funds to upgrade HVAC systems through next year, has purchased more temporary cooling units for spaces without adequate air conditioning, has equipped all classrooms with portable fans and schools with filtered water.