July 2023 was the world’s hottest month on record. And America’s schools weren’t built for this. According to a 2021 study by the Center for Climate Integrity, more than 13,700 public schools that did not need cooling systems in 1970 have installed — or will need to install — HVAC systems by 2025,based on the increasing number of very hot days during the school year. Total estimated cost: over $40 billion.

The good news is, there are many design and architectural innovations that can keep students, faculty and staff comfortable, while also creating healthier, greener and even more engaging places to learn. And there’s federal funding to pay for it.

But, installing air conditioners without making other renovations, which is often the cheapest and most expedient option, raises a school’s fossil fuel consumption, ultimately making the problem of climate change worse.

Baltimore is an example of a district that’s had to rapidly upgrade for a changing climate. Six years ago, 75 out of its 140 school buildings, including Yorkwood Elementary, lacked air conditioning.

Now, that number is down to 11, according to Cyndi Smith, the district’s executive director for facilities planning, design and construction. “It has been a big challenge,” she said. “We have the oldest average-age buildings [of every district] in the state, going back to the late 1800s.”

Dan Boggio, the founder of architecture firm PBK, which primarily designs schools and campuses, said he has seen increased interest in what he calls “hardening buildings against heat” over the past decade. When schools pull out all the stops for efficiency, he said, “We think we can come very close to saving 20 percent of the energy that the building uses over the year.”

Read the full article about designing schools for extreme heat by Anya Kamenetz at The Hechinger Report.