Twin Rivers unveils plan to put heaters, air conditioners in classrooms

Twin Rivers Unified unfurled a five-month plan Wednesday to correct heating and air-conditioning problems at Grant Union High School and Harmon Johnson Elementary School.

The two north Sacramento schools will have a total of 71 new HVAC units installed by the time the next school year starts in August, district officials said during a news conference at Grant Union High School. The campaign dubbed “Feel the difference! Creating a new climate in our classrooms,” is being coordinated by a task force of district employees.

Twin Rivers Unified has been under fire since a Sacramento Bee investigation revealed that students shivered in cold classrooms while new heating and air conditioning units sat unused.

School board President Rebecca Sandoval quipped Wednesday, “It’s hard to say if that news coverage ran hot or cold, but having students and staff in classrooms that were too cold is unacceptable and certainly put Twin Rivers in the hot seat.”

State leaders got involved earlier this year after The Bee found that 140 new HVAC units worth $3 million had sat idle for years. Among them were 72 units purchased for aging Grant Union High School and Harmon Elementary School that were never installed and remained in storage.

Wednesday’s announcement came just five days before Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren is scheduled to convene a community meeting to discuss ways to upgrade Grant Union High School facilities. That meeting will include Superintendent Steven Martinez and other Twin Rivers officials.

Warren has met with Martinez about the problem, said his spokesman Daniel Savala. He said the community meeting will “continue to apply the pressure.”

Twin Rivers officials saw an opportunity Wednesday for the district to improve its public image. “This is a commitment to our community and about building public trust,” Martinez said. “This is so much more than just heating and cooling.”

The district will spend $3.4 million to install new HVAC units at Harmon Johnson and $4.2 million to finish upgrades at Grant.

While workers will complete most installations by August, HVAC improvements on Grant’s shop buildings, museum and theater will occur sometime in the next two years, said Kim Barnett, acting director of general services.

The district already has started to solicit bids on the project. “Non-intrusive” work is expected to start May 5 while students are still in class. The work will start in earnest during summer break, which runs June 13 to Aug. 11.

Deferred maintenance funds will be used to complete the project, said William McGuire, deputy superintendent of administrative services. He said Twin Rivers Unified already has spent $2.4 million to pay for the units.

The district plans to take on other maintenance projects across the district this summer. Barnett and a contractor have been visiting campuses and putting together a master list of projects that need to be tackled. The district has identified $25 million that can be used to make the improvements.

Every school in the district will get something on its “wish list” this summer, Barnett said. “We’re working hard not to leave anyone out.”

Student body President Mai Xiong called the district’s plan a “stepping stone to improving Grant.” The senior said the school has experienced problems with heating and air conditioning since she started attending the school four years ago. She’s happy her two younger sisters will have more comfortable conditions.

“I’m happy and excited to see this happening,” she said.

Not everyone was impressed. Parent and Del Paso Heights Community Association member Greg Jefferson equated the district’s announcement with a man who “applauds himself for finally paying child support.”

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