A powerful heat wave that began a week ago is forcing West Coast colleges and universities to take additional safety precautions, such as providing additional air-conditioned places to study on campus and advising students on how to recognize heat exhaustion. The high temperatures are also prompting some institutions to provide assistance to surrounding communities facing sweltering conditions, wildfires and power outages.
Parts of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and Utah are subject to National Weather Service heat advisories and excessive heat warnings. Areas in other states, such as Montana, Oregon and Washington state, have received red flag warnings, indicating potential wildfires.
California campuses have been particularly hard hit by rising temperatures. Governor Gavin Newsom said a emergency state on August 31 due to temperatures expected to exceed 100 degrees statewide, reaching at least 110 degrees in some areas. The California Independent System Operator, the company that runs the state’s electric grid, said in a Press release Monday that the grid is under strain and residents can expect repeated power outages unless they reduce their energy use.
Keep the heat at bay
Laney College in Oakland closed its campus Tuesday due to the heat, according to an email sent to students. Online classes have taken place, but in-person classes have been canceled.
“We continue to monitor the situation as the heat advisory continues,” the email read.
Mel Ehlers, a sophomore at Laney, didn’t have classes at the college on Tuesday and was unaffected by the closure, but she feared it would inconvenience students who depend on campus services, such as the guard. eating or showers on campus.
“One concern I have for my classmates right now is that…many are using campus for other basic resources,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
The Marine College posted heat warnings on Twitter last Thursday, notifying students of forecast temperatures at or above 90 degrees through Tuesday.
“Plan ahead and have a buddy system!” the community college tweeted. “During a heat wave, check on medically vulnerable family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers.”
Jonathan Eldridge, assistant superintendent and vice president of student learning and success at the College of Marin, said the sustained heat has put a lot of strain on some buildings’ cooling systems and made them less efficient. As a result, some classes have been moved to buildings where they would not normally meet.
“The longer the prolonged heat drags on, the more we have to try to coordinate, which obviously creates logistical challenges when most of your rooms are already booked with other activities,” he said.
Some faculty members have also worked to create air-conditioned areas where students can relax, he said. For example, the director of the performing arts department installed extension cords, power strips, and cold drinking water in the lobby of the performing arts building so that students could use it as a living room.
“Since students aren’t going to be hanging out at our beautiful on-campus picnic tables in this kind of heat, they need somewhere indoors to be close to this informal space. So we need more of that than we would usually use, so they create extra temporary spaces like that. Nothing fancy, but something to give students some extra options.
The heat poses a particular challenge on campuses where some dormitories lack air conditioning, such as California State University, East Bay.
The campus has dorms that have fans but no air conditioning. The University kept some buildings open each day of Labor Day weekend to ensure that students, faculty, and staff would have an air-conditioned place to go.
“We have buildings on campus that are not air-conditioned,” Cal State East Bay news and media manager Kimberly Hawkins said in an email. “We communicate with our campus community about how they can stay cool, where they can go to beat the heat, and what to watch out for when it comes to heat exposure.”
She said campus leaders are also trying to conserve energy to comply with a Flex Alert, a call for state residents to voluntarily reduce their energy use, issued by the California Independent System Operator. .
“The university is aware and doing what it can to play its part,” she said. “Residents of the unit received educational messages about how they can play a role in energy conservation and stay cool during this time.”
Pomona College’s former dorms, which make up two-thirds of student housing, lack air conditioning, said Avis Hinkson, dean of students and vice president of student affairs. Fifty beds have been set up in various air-conditioned locations on campus for students to sleep in if their rooms get too hot. There aren’t enough beds for all the students who might need them, but she expects some students to stay with friends off campus or in the campus center, which remains open 24 hours a day. as a cooling area for students. Water stations and misters have also been installed throughout the campus to allow students to cool off.
“We know it may take a short time, but it is intense time, so how can we meet the needs of the students and be as creative as possible? ” she says. “The various cooling stations and cots and all of that was really our effort to think outside the box and provide opportunities for students to find some cool space on campus.”
Josh Gana, director of facilities and the physical environment at the Association of College and University Housing Officers–International, said many dorms in regions with typically temperate or cooler climates were built without air conditioning to save costs. and make university residences more sustainable.
“Traditionally, it has not been cost-effective to install air conditioning in a climatic environment where the average temperature does not become very high and when the buildings are used mainly in the cold season,” said Gana, who also serves as the director. Housing and Services Operations at the University of Washington. “It’s part of both the cost of design and maintenance.”
However, he said campus facility professionals like him are increasingly concerned about heat waves. The University of Washington had to provide additional fans to keep visitors attending academic conferences on campus cool this summer and to modify employee uniforms because of the heat.
“I think over time we’ve seen in some of these cooler climate regions the average temperature go up and the number of days of concern for heat go up, especially in mid-summer,” he said. -he declares. “And that’s caused institutions to rethink some designs and future-proof designs, I think, and some new builds.”
Helping Communities Cool Down
Some colleges and universities have also stepped up efforts to help local residents in surrounding areas cope with the heat.
Pacific Union College, a private liberal arts institution, on Thursday designated an air-conditioned room in its on-campus church as a community cooling center where Napa County residents can cool off, use power outlets and drink alcohol. ice water, the Napa Valley Registry reported. The center could remain open after September 8 depending on the level of need.
Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college in Montana, is serving as a base for firefighters battling nearby wildfires, as it has repeatedly over the past two years. President Sandra Boham said between 25 and 75 firefighters stay in tents in the campus parking lot each night and use gym showers, in addition to portable showers brought to campus.
“We try to support the community as much as possible,” Boham said. “And for the past few years, with the big fires that we’ve had in this area, there’s been a need for a good number of people to fight the fires, and so they have to be somewhere. We’re one of the areas of gathering set up like a camp.
Boham said it’s possible students and firefighters could be on campus at the same time, depending on how long it would take to put out the fires. But the weather forecast for his area has him hopeful the temperature will drop by the time fall classes begin next week.
“Some of our accommodations don’t have air conditioning,” she said. “It makes things a bit difficult, but I don’t think we’ll really see much of an impact from it.”
Gana said he expects campus facilities to change as heat waves become more common.
“It’s a combination of managing in the current environment and understanding the capabilities and limitations of the facilities you have in your current physical plant, but also planning for the future,” he said. “I think understanding that climate change is happening and the average temperature is increasing is a reason to reconsider design standards and how buildings are constructed.”