As summer approaches, 90 Boston schools still lack infrastructure needed for air conditioning

"There's so many issues with just using window fans."

The auditorium at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Boston on April 7. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

It’s a problem that some historians say gave us the concept of summer vacation in the first place: In schools, it can be hard to keep cool.

Undoubtedly, this has been a perennial problem in Boston Public Schools — one that, for some, hit a new level of urgency one year ago as the city experienced its hottest June on record.

And last July, as summer school commenced, only 29 of the 63 buildings open for class had air conditioning, prompting the district to pass out hundreds of more fans to get at least two in every classroom without a cooling unit.


While Boston has so far dodged the heat — thanks to a mild late spring — in the final weeks of school, a temperature surge late last month rose the heat to 86 degrees in at least one classroom and had some teachers asking again, where are the A.C.s?

“For years now, we’ve been advocating for A.C.s,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, told recently. “There’s so many issues with just using window fans — everything ranging from not being able to hear because they’re so loud to papers flying everywhere.

“But … it does cause anxiety when we know hot weather is coming; when you know that it becomes really hard for students to concentrate when they’re trying to learn and it’s so hot,” Tang added.

The COVID-19 pandemic compounded the problem, too.

“Imagine having to wear a mask in 90-degree weather or trying to teach in ninth grade, sweltering classrooms with masks on,” Tang said. “It made a really terrible situation even worse.”

The issue is one the city is tackling now through Mayor Michelle Wu’s $2 billion “Green New Deal” plan for BPS. Unveiled last month, the initiative aims to make long-needed upgrades and improvements to the district’s aging 132 properties at a rate previously unseen.


With the plan came the launch of the BPS Building Dashboard, a resource that shows the conditions of Boston schools in real-time. The vast majority, or 90 schools, still lack the necessary infrastructure to support modern air conditioning systems.

“While our buildings are extremely outdated and many were built before 1950, every student deserves to learn in spaces that are safe, healthy, energy-efficient, and inspiring,” BPS spokesperson Gabrielle Farrell told in a statement. “When the air conditioner installation process began, we found that many sites needed electric work and window modifications to support the units. This is exactly why Mayor Wu is investing $2 billion to improve our facilities, which will include new construction, renovation projects, and districtwide upgrades.”

Tang said she has been told by school officials BPS has hit additional roadblocks in the rollout of A.C. units, namely the ongoing labor shortage.

“So the issue is not actually the funds to buy them, … the issue is actually finding contractors who are able to come in and do the work,” Tang said. “And that’s an issue with a lot of the facilities challenges that they’ve been trying to fix.”

Still, Tang said Wu’s approach — especially the funding Wu has set aside — to renovating schools gives her hope the city will take these kinds of infrastructure projects seriously moving forward.


“What’s unfortunate is that we have been advocating for these issues for years, and it took a pandemic and an audit for people to really pay attention and take action — and that’s unfortunate because we do have solutions,” Tang said. “We are in the schools. We know what the problems are, and I think we’re finally starting to feel heard.”


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on