Non air-conditioned Columbia Schools Dismiss Early

Related Story

COLUMBIA- School buses lined up as far as the eyes could see late Wednesday morning. Anxious students waited for their parents to pick them up to end their day.

Except it wasn't the end of the day. It was not even noon.

As a result of Wednesday's excessive heat, Columbia Public Schools dismissed students at seven of its schools early.

West and Jefferson junior highs and Lee, Midway Heights, New Haven, Ridgeway and Two Mile Prairie elementary schools don't have central air conditioning so they closed early.

On August 10, Columbia Public Schools sent out a memo telling parents and students the conditions of the district's new heat-related dismissal procedures.

"We have a plan in place to add air conditioning to all the schools," Columbia Public Schools superintendent Chris Belcher said. "We have a plan in place to add air conditioning to all the schools but it's a long process. It may take up to two to three years, though."

The affected junior highs released at 11:30 a.m. and the affected elementary schools released at 12:30 p.m. The schools served lunch to the students before releasing them.

Kimberly Dorris, a recently relocated parent of seven from Joplin, can't believe schools aren't already air conditioned.

"I'm from Texas and I just can't believe there is a school that doesn't have air conditioning," she said. "I know we are a little more north here and it is more mild here but the weather isn't that much different in the summer."

Belcher said there was a bond passage in April of last year that allocated $14 million to bring air conditioning to the schools without it.

However, it is a very lengthy process. Belcher said it will take about eight to nine months just to get the plan for installation from engineers.

Chris Stevens, a parent of a Lee Elementary student, thinks the best solution is to move the start of the school year to after Labor Day.

"If they moved the start of the school year, there would be fewer hot days and the lack of air conditioning wouldn't be an issue."

This is the first time under the new plan that Columbia Public Schools has dismissed some of its schools early for excessive heat reasons.

Belcher said the new air conditioning units in the junior highs may cost up to $3.5 million because they are bigger and it is a more complicated process. Centralizing air in the smaller elementaries is estimated at about $600-800 thousand.

When asked about the cost of the units, Dorris said, "It's worth it for the kids."