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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, August 7, 2004

Principal surprised by fan club

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Leeward Oahu Writer

Residents along the Wai'anae Coast — one of O'ahu's hottest spots, downright sweltering in recent days — have mounted a drive to get a fan in every classroom.

Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, left, installs one of 90 fans donated by her friend Michael Gadol, right, in a classroom at Leihoku Elementary. Shimabukuro hopes to collect 500 to 1,000 fans, enough to put one or two in every classroom in her district.

Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

Yesterday they installed the first of possibly 90 fans at Leihoku Elementary, and hope to entice individuals, organizations and businesses to join the breeze patrol.

State Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, who initiated the effort, said she was inspired by a Wai'anae High School student. Jesse Johanson gathered thousands of petition signatures pleading with the state to install air-conditioning at his school — a long shot in a state where few of the public schools are so equipped.

Moved by Johanson's efforts, Shimabukuro, D-45th (Wai'anae, Makaha, Makua), visited schools in her district and came to the conclusion that some kind of relief was needed.

"It was just unbelievably hot in those classrooms," she said.

Shimabukuro initiated a drive to get fans in the classrooms as soon as possible. When her friend Michael Gadol heard about it, the Hilton Hawaiian Village worker kicked things off with a $400 donation.

Wai'anae City Mill offered to sell the group its all-mounted, oscillating fans at a discount, and Gadol was among a group of volunteers who delivered fans to Leihoku Elementary yesterday.

"The idea is that this will catch on, and maybe more people will donate," said Gadol, who aspires to be a special-education teacher and said it bothered him to think about kids trying to study in extreme heat. "It seemed like a good cause," he said.

The heat is on

Of nearly 300 public schools in Hawai'i, fewer than two dozen are fully air-conditioned, according to the state Department of Education. Most of the remaining schools have partial air conditioning, such as in libraries and computer rooms.

While officials have talked about air-conditioning all schools in the state, DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen has said it's a question of priorities. With the state facing a huge backlog in repair and maintenance, air-conditioning becomes a priority only in extreme cases such as Ma'ili Elementary.

For years, Island schools were built open-air, and relied on trade winds to provide natural cooling. Nowadays, air-conditioning is preferred for new schools, officials say. But existing schools rarely make the high-priority list for air conditioning, according to Knudsen.

How to help

Anyone wanting to donate or help out can call state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro at 586-8460 or 349-3075.

School principal Randall Miura said he was delighted and surprised by the generosity, particularly because it has been especially hot and humid of late.

"And we're just at the beginning of the hot season," he said. "The really warm months here are September and October."

His school is in a valley surrounded by mountains, and when the trades slacken, which they frequently do, "it's just like a sweat box inside the portables — it just drains all the energy out of the students."

Shimabukuro said Leihoku Elementary could use 70 more fans, but she wants to collect 500 to 1,000 — enough to put one or two in every classroom in her district.

"That's the goal," she said. "That's what we want to do. This is a start."

How much does cooler air mean when it come to educating Island youngsters? One person who thinks she knows is Linda Victor, just-retired principal of nearby Ma'ili Elementary School.

"It makes a tremendous difference," Victor said yesterday as she cleaned out her desk at the school where she fought for years to get air-conditioning.

Students at her school seemed more focused on survival than study, she said. Small wonder: Classrooms at Ma'ili routinely blasted past the 100-degree mark before air-conditioning was installed in 2002.

Ma'ili was a special case. Not only was it in one of the hottest spots in the warmest part of O'ahu, the location was plagued by flies and dust as well. Two years ago, at the start of the 2002 school year, Victor opened the doors to one of the only fully air-conditioned schools in the state.

She said she saw a difference in her students immediately.

"It was even better than I thought it would be," she said. "The kids were comfortable. Their study was better. They were happier. They even looked forward to coming to school."

If you haven't got air conditioning, she said, fans are the next best thing.

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.