At 1:50 P.M. on September 27th, 2017, students pour into the band room for class. They begin setting up expensive equipment to prepare for nearly an hour of playing.
The thermometer at the front of the room reads 88 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it is only 84 outside.
Due to a metal ceiling and poor ventilation, the room heats beyond the temperature outside and retains that heat longer than other rooms. There’s no air conditioning, fans, or even a breeze. The students can use their music to fan themselves (and even the teacher,) but everyone’s still got sweat dripping down his or her neck by the time rehearsal begins. The heat makes the physical activity of playing more difficult, especially for a full class period, but no time can be lost as the first performances of the year are rapidly approaching.
There are roughly 110 students in the high school band program, across multiple performing groups, including the Band Ensemble, Concert Band, Symphonic Band, Marching Band, and Jazz Band. The room is in use nearly every period of the day, as well as after school and on weekends during football season. Unlike most other rooms in the building, which are only hot for the first and last couple of weeks of the school year, the heat here can remain a problem for at least a month after school starts and before it ends because of the well-insulated room’s tendency to hold heat.
Hot conditions and poor ventilation are dangerous to students’ health. Besides leading to dehydration and dizziness, heat has the potential to cause seizures in people with certain medical conditions. A number of students in the band have health complications that can be exacerbated by heat.
In addition to being detrimental to musicians’ health and education, extreme temperatures combined with high humidity have been known to damage instruments. High temperatures can cause metal or wood to warp and finger pads to dry out, altering the sound of an instrument, which is why instruments are not supposed to be left in hot cars for extended periods of time. On a sunny 70-degree day, it can take the temperature inside a car 1 hour to reach 113 degrees. While the band room doesn’t get as much hotter than the temperature outside as cars do, and not as quickly, it nears that level and often stays there for several days at a time. Students usually have to store their instruments in lockers in the band room for whole school days or weeks, increasing the potential for the heat to permanently affect the sound and cost students and the school money for repairs or replacements.
Teachers have complained before, but so far no steps have been taken to improve ventilation. The orchestra and chorus rooms, contrarily, both have air conditioning for their students and equipment. The library and computer labs are also air-conditioned to protect school computers and books, as are rooms that are used by staff and students during the summer.
The school may be reluctant to install more air conditioners because it would be a major undertaking to do so for the entire school. Air conditioning is expensive for schools to buy and install, costing several thousand dollars per room. However, not every room may need it, depending on how hot it gets and for how long. For certain rooms, like the band room, heat is a problem for more of the year than in much of the rest of the school. It is one of the hottest rooms, and besides just during regular classes, it is also in use on days outside of the regular school schedule during the hotter months. While the price of air conditioning is steep, music students with classes there would most likely be willing to contribute to fundraising efforts, considering the amount of time each spends there throughout high school. One parent suggests that the school would not even need to install a fixed unit; instead, it could purchase a mobile one and wheel it into the room when needed in order to avoid some of the cost.
While not every room in a school building may require air conditioning, it is responsible to work to improve conditions in rooms where heat regularly reaches a dangerous level, given the health hazards and other damages it poses. For now, the band room and the students and teachers who use it remain at the mercy of the weather.