During the heatwave at the beginning of the school year, LA Unified School District officials received 346 calls to fix air conditioning units on a single September morning. And in the sweltering days prior, LAUSD had already received more than 2,600 requests to repair AC units that failed during the triple-digit heat, leaving students and teachers to sweat their way through lessons.
Last week, LA Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines updated the school board on an experimental apprenticeship program that could solve the district’s HVAC problem for good. The “first-of-its-kind” apprentice program will allow the district to better maintain about 68,000 pieces of HVAC equipment, which provide air conditioning and ventilation to more than 30,000 classrooms, offices, gymnasiums, and other vital school spaces.
There are an estimated 301,123 HVAC professionals working in the United States, but the district only has 80 maintenance workers to service one of the largest school districts in the country. To make matters worse, much of the district’s HVAC equipment is more than 30 years old. However, Superintendent Cortines says the new, forward-thinking apprenticeship program provides a long-term solution that will make LAUSD more self-sufficient.
“This is a unique program in this district, in this state and in this nation. A first of its kind,” Superintendent Cortines said.
Under the new program, 10 current LAUSD employees will attend night school twice a week. Following the classroom instruction, the employees will participate in a five-year apprenticeship with HVAC technicians already working on LAUSD campuses. Finally, the workers will become journeymen technicians capable of repairing the district’s own HVAC equipment.
“I don’t think I need to tell you this, we need [HVAC technicians] badly. Our portfolio, I think I’ve explained this to you before, is just enormous,” said LAUSD Director of Maintenance and Operations Roger Finstad.
Now, rather than outsourcing the district’s repair needs, existing district employees will gain the skills to maintain vital equipment in- house. The September heatwave may have highlighted the district’s desperate need for skilled HVAC technicians, but it’s a problem that’s been heating up for at least a decade.
The program has been in the works since 2011, but only recently did LAUSD have the funds to officially launch the initiative. The Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and the United Association Local Union 250 partnered with LAUSD to finally make the program a reality.
LAUSD board members reportedly gave the initiative “rave reviews” after the superintendent’s presentation. If the five-year program is a success, the district hopes to expand it to other needed trades, like plumbing and welding.