Waldo, Swegle, McNary get window film to cut classroom heat

Two Salem schools have new window film intended to reduce classroom temperatures following teacher complaints of excessive heat last spring, with a third scheduled for work.

But after announcing plans in the spring to treat more than 2,200 windows around the district with the film, Salem-Keizer School District officials now say they don’t have a timeline for a more complete project to address heat in schools without air conditioning.

Waldo Middle School and Swegle Elementary School had south and west-facing windows covered, costing the school district about $71,000 and $27,000, respectively, district spokesman Aaron Harada said.

McNary High School is scheduled to receive window film over the weekend at a cost of $51,000.

School employees and parents complained to the district and Salem Reporter in the spring of classroom temperatures in the high 80s during a May heat wave. Teachers at Waldo Middle School said at the time that students were falling asleep in class and struggling to learn.

Half of the district’s 65 schools are at least 50 years old, with the oldest, Liberty Elementary, dating back to 1908, according to a district list provided to Salem Reporter. About half the schools have air conditioning in at least some wings of the building.

With temperatures rising in the spring and fall, teachers said action was needed to keep classrooms habitable and safe. 

Temperatures in Salem are forecasted to hit 87 degrees Thursday and 90 degrees Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

After the May heat wave, Robert Silva, chief operations officer for the district, met with teachers at Waldo and outlined steps he was taking to address classroom heat.

He told Salem Reporter the district intended to use a portion of its Covid relief funding to apply heat treatment to windows at schools without air conditioning after piloting it in a hot classroom at Auburn Elementary School and receiving good feedback from the teacher.

Silva said the project would depend on contractor availability, but he hoped to have film in place by the start of school in the fall.

Harada said the district prepared information for a bid in July, determining the highest-priority schools and measuring windows. Bids were posted in August and awarded late that month for the three schools.

Asked why the scope of the project was decreased to just three schools, Harada said, “When the initial schools are completed, we will evaluate the heat-reducing effectiveness of the film before expanding the solution to other schools, which is potentially thousands of windows. At this point, we do not have a timeline on this second round of installs.”

Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association, said the union wasn’t told why the project timeline was slowed down. She said she was hopeful temperatures would be cooler this fall so teachers and students wouldn’t struggle as much.

“If we’re up to high 80s, 90s, we’re going to be back in the same situation,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.