By John DeCoste
With the arrival of winter weather, the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board - faced with the need for fiscal restraint - finds itself looking to find a balance between the challenges of weather and increasing heating costs.
Students were only back in school a few days after the Christmas break when temperatures plummeted to the minus double-digits. However, AVRSB superintendent Margo Tait confirmed that schools have been instructed to “turn down the heat after hours to conserve energy.”
Responding to concerns that some schools have been leaving the heat turned down during school hours, Tait said the current directive “has been the case for a number of years. There has been no change in our practice this year.”
Generally, says Director of Operations David Floyd, the AVRSB tries to maintain room temperatures at 20 C during occupied times. These would vary a degree or two, depending on the building and spaces; for example, gymnasiums would be lower due to the program activity.
During unoccupied times, he said, generally the spaces are reduced to 16-18 C, depending on the outside air temperature at the time.
With schools with hot water heat and oil fired boilers, the water temperature is reduced during unoccupied times and the amount varies with the outside temperature. Also during unoccupied times like nights, weekends and holidays, the ventilation systems are turned off to save energy.
In terms of allowing students outdoors for recess and lunch hour in extremely cold weather, Tait stressed that the wind chill, more than the actual temperature, is normally the determining factor.
Monitoring weather and temperature concerns is part of the mandate of AVRSB’s acting occupational health and safety officer, Bob Neilson.
He explains that on a calm day at this time of year, our bodies insulate us somewhat from the outside temperature by warming up a thin layer of air close to our skin known as the boundary layer.
When the wind blows, it takes this protective layer away, exposing our skin to the outside air. It takes energy for our bodies to warm up a new layer. If each layer keeps getting blown away, our skin temperature will drop and we will feel colder.
Wind also makes a person feel colder by evaporating any moisture on the skin, a process that draws more heat away from the body. Studies show when skin is wet, it loses heat much faster than when it is dry.
In monitoring temperature and wind chill on extremely cold days, the board relies on Environment Canada’s wind chill chart, which indicates that a wind chill below - 27C carries “an increased risk” of frostbite and hypothermia.
Normally, students are not allowed outside when the wind chill reaches this level. As well, there may be many occasions when wind chill is not that low when school officials will still choose to err on the side of caution.
Neilson noted that the Environment Canada chart was developed for healthy adults, and good judgement must be used when dealing with students of a younger age.
In general, the following guidelines are used:
• Zero to minus - 20 wind chill: Care must be taken in assessing the appropriateness of sending students outside.
• - 21 to - 27 wind chill: Serious consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate for students to be outside.
• Wind chill below - 27: Students not permitted to be outside during school hours.
Other factors taken into consideration include whether students are appropriately dressed for cold weather, how long they are likely to be outside, their activity level while outdoors, and the expected degree of exposure to the wind.
Since one of the most important factors is how well students are dressed, parents are reminded to dress their children appropriately.
”On occasion, the weather and wind chill will be sufficient to increase the risk of hypothermia. Students should come to school appropriately dressed, which includes dressing in warm layers, a hat, gloves or mittens, scarf, and a coat.”
For those looking to do their own research or be proactive by checking the weather forecast in advance, it can be located by accessing the Environment Canada website at www.weatheroffice.gc.ca and following the links to our area.