By Cathi Douglas     6/21/2016

For two or three extremely hot days each year, Principal Adela Solis declares a half-day for students and teachers at the School of Our Lady in Santa Ana. Because the school has no air conditioning, learning becomes next to impossible for the overheated youngsters.

Mercifully those days will be over when the 2016-17 school year commences this fall, thanks to a joint effort by the Diocese of Orange, four local schools and parishes, and Shea Family Charities.

“The rule of thumb was by the time it hit 95 degrees in Santa Ana we had to call a half day,” Solis explains. “It is difficult for students to concentrate in the heat. Now with the new air conditioning, we aren’t anticipating having to have any early dismissal due to weather conditions.”

Parents, teachers and students at the school are excited about the new HVAC system and are raising money toward the school’s portion of the installation, she added.

New HVAC systems will be installed beginning this month at the School of Our Lady and St. Anne’s School, both in Santa Ana; Our Lady of Guadalupe School in La Habra; and St. Justin Martyr School in Anaheim. Construction will be complete in mid- to late August.

Greg Dhuyvetter, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Orange, notes that central air conditioning and heating go beyond merely providing for the comfort of students and faculty members.

“The new HVAC systems have become a vital component of an effective environment for learning,” Dhuyvetter says. “These schools regularly had to close early or adjust programs during the critical hot weather days of fall, not to mention the effects of a very hot classroom on student learning in general.”

New air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems will provide the four schools with much-needed heating and cooling in a cost-efficient, environmentally sound manner, he adds.

The new HVAC systems will have other lasting effects. Catherine Ossa, acting principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe School, notes that prospective parents considering the school will be more open to having their children attend.

“The most positive impact for us will be on enrollment,” Ossa says. “We have two portables for pre-K and kindergarten students that have air conditioning, but the rest of our school classrooms do not. When parents go on all-school tours, it’s one of the first things they notice. These days a good HVAC system is just a given that parents want for their children.”

Because the school’s La Habra location is the northernmost part of the Diocese, she adds, it’s common for temperatures to rise up to 100 degrees. “I get irritable when it’s warm, and the students get irritable too,” Ossa says, “and our rooms get very warm.”

“This project targets the schools that are identified as having the greatest number of heat disruptions and immediately improves comfort and learning for all,” Dhuyvetter says. “Our great schools just got better.”