DENAIR – The Denair High School gym long has been known as a hot, humid, uncomfortable place to play or watch a game or hold a schoolwide rally, especially in the warmer months of the year. Now, thanks to a multimillion-dollar air conditioning upgrade, students, staff and community members no longer will have to swelter.
Tuesday morning, a large crane lifted two 25-ton heating and air units into place on top of the gym. When they’re connected and turned on, the cool confines of the gym may be the place to be on sunny summer afternoon.
That’s rarely been the case in the past.
Principal Kara Backman said the gym could get as high as 94 degrees. Boys basketball Coach R.J. Henderson described conditions as “miserable” during youth basketball camps in the summer. “It was hotter inside than outside,” he said. Athletic Director Melissa Treadwell used to bring in large fans to try and cool the gym before events.
“August and September were miserable for girls volleyball practicing and playing games. Opening doors would do no good at all,” said former Athletic Director Darrin Allen. “It’s going to be a nice change for the players and fans. No more sticky hot air from the evaporative coolers that only made it worse in the gym.”
The installation of the new gym HVAC system is part of a districtwide initiative to upgrade lighting, air conditioning and heating, reduce water use and leverage technology to make everything run more efficiently.
Initial estimates indicate that the systems could reduce Denair’s utility bills by 30% a year – roughly $120,000 – offsetting the cost of the $2.5 million project over the next 15 years.
“We are confident that the improvement projects will offset some of the economic uncertainties ahead,” said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger, referring to reduced state funding because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “This program is an example of our Board of Education’s forward thinking. Through innovative leadership and with our partner, Climatec, we are getting to make what seemed impossible possible.”
Metzger said student feedback also played a role in convincing district leaders to invest in the gym’s new air conditioning units.
“I was talking with students in the Leadership Class last year about their thoughts and ideas for a variety of things in the district,” she said. “At the very end of the conversation, one of our senior football players said, ‘Dr. Metzger, can you do something about the gym? It’s so hot!’ We were teasing back and forth a bit and then he said, ‘No, you don’t understand, during rallies it’s so hot, it’s like it’s raining in there (as he mimed water pouring off his head).’
“When I told him that we were, in fact, working on air conditioning for the gym, he nearly jumped for joy … until I told him it would be his graduation present because it wouldn’t be done until the summer!”
In addition to the high school gym, the district’s projects include:
- Replacing the aged heating and cooling units at Denair Elementary Charter Academy
- Installing HVAC sensors at each school, allowing staff to better control temperatures and save money
- Installing new energy efficient LED lighting at Denair Middle School, the football stadium and outdoors across the district to cut costs by 50%
- Installing advanced irrigation control systems districtwide and sports field sprinklers at DHS
The district combined Measure K bond dollars with low-interest private sector funding to pay for the improvements. The district expects to save more than $5.2 million on its energy bills over the life of the program.
Just as important, the district will dramatically reduce its environmental footprint and avoid 530,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That’s the equivalent of 24,440 gallons of gas saved per year, 6,405 trees preserved from deforestation or the power needs of 32 Denair homes.
“Denair Unified School District leaders decided to make themselves more sustainable and now the reward will pay dividends,” said Tyler Girtman, regional manager at Climatec. “Our team here at Climatec is honored to be able to help agencies just like DUSD realize that there are opportunities buried in the aftermath of COVID-19.”
Added Metzger: “We are fortunate that after all is said and done, our district will hit a milestone in environmental stewardship, fiscal resilience and service to our students.”