Last year, the NSW government announced that it would invest half a billion dollars in the Cooler Classrooms program. The five-year initiative aims to improve learning environments in public schools across the state by providing air conditioning.
But with summer fast approaching, progress has been modest.
“We are committed to delivering a quality, sustainable and cost-effective program to ensure our students enjoy healthy and comfortable learning environments in thousands of classrooms and library spaces at more than 900 schools across NSW,” says a NSW Department of Education spokesperson.
“To date, 27 schools are complete, 23 schools are in construction and more than 120 schools are in pre-construction phases such as design or tender.
“Due diligence has been completed at more than 600 schools with a mean maximum January temperature of 30°C and above.
“This will provide an understanding of the works that are required to improve the indoor comfort and air quality in each school’s permanent learning spaces and libraries.”
A call for patience
Defending the small number of schools that have so far been completed, NSW Department of Education secretary Mark Scott emphasised that the program seeks to provide smart, sustainable solutions, and this takes time – on average 12 weeks according to the Department.
“It’s not like going to Harvey Norman and bunging up air conditioning units on the wall,” Scott said. “It’s about having integrated systems in old buildings that are quite a complex construction.”
As temperatures begin to rise in the lead-up to summer, Scott urged school communities to wait for the Cooler Classroom work, rather than buying and installing units themselves.
“Part of the challenge that we have got is that over the years under successive governments a range of schools have put up their own air conditioning systems,” Scott said. “That is somewhat ad hoc around the state. I can assure you that those systems are hardly state of the art and are hardly energy efficient.
“We have $500 million allocated and we encourage schools to be patient as we come up with these programs.”
Too little too late – or too much too soon?
There are questions about whether the program is delivering adequate solutions for the schools, although it is not clear whether the work is being under or overdone.
A NSW Department of Education spokesperson says the systems installed by the program include reverse-cycle air conditioning, mechanical fresh air ventilation, IAQ monitors, solar power generation and simple controls.
The Fifth Estate has noted that this does not cover other aspects such as improvement of building envelopes, insulation and glazing and shading in building facades.
A contractor involved in the program has indicated that the problem is rather that the systems are “way overspecced”.
“They are VRV systems with separate fresh air systems controlled by PLCs (programmable logic controllers) monitoring CO2 levels,” says the contractor, who asked to remain anonymous. “I think it will go back to the drawing board for scaling back.”
One of the problems is when the systems break down in regional areas.
“Local guys can’t fix them as they don’t have the experience in VRV systems and don’t want to touch them.”
Work to be done
The government is still looking for relevant businesses to get involved in the work. There are procurement opportunities for air conditioning design services, electrical design services, detailed design and construction services, and PV solar services.
There is a high demand for regionally-based contractors to help deliver the program in North-Western NSW, Southern NSW and on the North Coast.
For more information on registering and applying for works, click here.
Featured image: NSW Department of Education website.