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Voting for cool schools

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To be "cool" in eight years or in decades? To meet earthquake standards in 10 or 22 years?

The Salt Lake City Board of Education is wisely going to let voters decide those questions.The board is going to ask voters to OK bonds to advance the air conditioning of schools and to expedite seismic retrofit plans. The election has tentatively been set for May 1999.

The amount of the bond proposal has not been pinned down, although previous talks centered on $90 million and no new taxes. But the amount may depend on whether the board decides to build elementary schools as part of talks to reduce elementary school size, which may necessitate a tax increase.

Currently, due to $70 million in bonds approved in 1993, all of the district's 36 schools will be seismically retrofitted by 2020. The bond proposal, if approved, would have air conditioning completed by 2006 and retrofitting by 2008.

Fairness is another issue in the air conditioning debate. Nine of the 36 district schools have air conditioning. District offices are also air conditioned - a fact noted by dis-grunt-led parents who sent their children to the non-air conditioned schools when unusually warm temperatures of around 100 degrees in late August and early September turned the classrooms in those nine schools into saunas. Crayons melted, while fish died in overheated tanks.

The possibility of legal action also comes into play. A 1988 health code on school safety states that classrooms should not rise above 79 degrees.

Having looked at all of the above, last year was not typical regarding late summer and early fall temperatures. Temperatures at the end of August are typically in the high 80s; they drop into the mid- and low-80s the first week into September. On the back end, temperatures in May climb to about 77 degrees and reach the 80s in June. Air conditioning wasn't needed this spring. But it could be vitally needed this August and September.

Trying to guess weather patterns is a difficult task.

The issue is a local one for each school district. What's decided in the Salt Lake City School District may not be what's decided in the Jordan School District, which has its own air conditioning woes. That's not necessarily good or bad. It depends on the voters, which is the way the matter should be settled.