Construction boom triggers delay in cooling public schools

A busy construction industry could mean some of Hawaii’s public schools won’t receive air conditioners until next March.

That’s what the Department of Education is blaming for the delay.

Last month, Gov. David Ige signed a bill, allowing the state to use $100 million to cool 1,000 classrooms by the end of this year.

The state has been working on a plan to achieve the governor’s goal since the beginning of the year.

What education officials didn’t include in that plan is the high cost — up to six times more than what they expected.

“Everyone in the state obviously has to try to close out their budget by the end of June, so there’s a lot of work out there out for bid right now,” said Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent of the DOE.

Carlson said one contractor submitted a bid of $135,000 for each classroom using photovoltaic-powered air conditioners. Preliminary estimates ranged between $20,000 and $30,000.

“They’re not that interested in doing this work right now or reaching that bid, so they put in an over-inflated bid and that’s what we end up with,” Carlson said.

“That seems very high. I think the cost should be much lower than that,” said Colin Yost, chief operating officer with RevoluSun.

Yost said RevoluSun donated an off-grid solar AC system to Kalaheo High School, which would have cost about the same amount the DOE had originally estimated.

The state plans to take a small break before putting the project out to bid again, which could delay the process another month.

Bidding is expected to begin again in a few weeks. The contractor for the first phase would be selected by the end of July. Because of this unexpected delay, some schools won’t be cooled until March.

The DOE will combine some of the projects to make the packages larger and more attractive to contractors.

“What if after the second round of bids come back, you still have a cost that is more than you expected?” KHON2 asked.

“Again, it’s part of working with the industry, we obviously hope that’s not the case. We’ll readdress it at that point,” Carlson said.

Officials hope contractors think about what this project is about and not their bottom line.

“This is the kind of work that all of us who get involved in it should want to do at a reasonable cost to help the kids, help the schools. It’s not a time for profit-making,” Yost said.

When it comes to cooling Hawaii’s public schools, the DOE will follow its heat abatement priority list.

The list includes 33 schools. The top three are: Ewa Beach Elementary, Ilima Intermediate and Campbell High.

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