Cool under pressure

As teenagers across the country begin the countdown to the exams that could determine the course of the rest of their lives, memories of those evenings spent revising and days waiting nervously outside the exam room in the sunshine come flooding back. The summer I spent sitting in a humid exam hall poring over A level exam papers is, mercifully, a distant memory these days.  The hall is probably still there, however, and chances are it will be just as hot, stuffy and inhospitable for this year’s crop of school leavers as it was in my day.

While the Government is making a huge investment in updating school buildings, the reality is that few schools are fortunate enough to have any installed air conditioning, and, even as part of a re-building programme, air con is rarely seen as a priority.  Realistically, one might argue, why should it be?  Despite widespread concerns about global warming, our climate means that an air conditioning system in a school environment would be redundant for most of the year.  Indeed, schools are on their summer break during the hottest months, so an investment in an installed air conditioning system seems ridiculous, compared to the need to buy basics like books and computers.

The fact remains, however, that schools do suffer from a greenhouse effect of their own and May, June and even September can prove just as sweltering as July and August. Older school buildings often have dreadful thermal performance, exposing students and teachers to indoor temperatures much higher than those outdoors.  Meanwhile, the trend for large glazed façades in new builds means that these school environments can be just as problematic.

It’s an issue that has been raised by the largest teaching union, the NUT, with teachers lobbying for a maximum permissible temperature on health and safety grounds.  They certainly have a point.  Health and safety legislation already stipulates that classrooms should not operate in temperatures below 18°C and sports halls should have a temperature of at least 15°C, however, there is no designated temperature at which it is considered too hot to continue teaching.

Think back to last summer’s relentless rain and you may think what’s all the fuss about? Cast your mind back a little further to the weeks and weeks of hot weather in 2006, however, and the problem really comes into focus.  Certainly, anyone who took exams that year will recall how hot it was and, as any teacher will tell you, the hot environment not only makes everyone feel irritable and uncomfortable, but can also affect concentration and, ultimately, performance.

Clearly in a school environment, and especially during exams, the discomfort and distraction of an unpleasantly hot classroom or hall is unacceptable.  Students, already nervous about sitting their exams, will feel even more agitated if the environment in which they sit them is hot and humid.  And once the exam has started high temperatures, a lack of fresh air circulating and the consequences of these conditions, such as stale odours and coughing, could all contribute to lower performance from able candidates. Many schools simply accept this as the time-honoured fate of summer exam students. What they often don’t realise is that air conditioning hire could provide a fast, flexible and cost-effective solution that could help maintain grades, deliver a safer school environment and safeguard teachers’ sanity.

Costing as little as a few pounds per day, specialist air conditioning unit hire allows a school to put in place safe and effective air conditioning, without any capital outlay.  What’s more, many models have an ‘A’ energy rating, making them cheap to run too. That makes it a very attractive option, even in comparison to a portable unit from a DIY store. Hired units also provide much greater benefits in cooling terms than off the shelf portable units and, because every unit is electrically tested and cleaned before delivery, they provide the safety and reliability benefits essential in a school environment.  On a practical level, the school does not need to allocate storage space as the unit(s) will only be on site for as long as they are needed. Furthermore, they offer a completely flexible solution with units supplied on wheels so that they can be moved between rooms to other hot spots such as laboratories, computer suites and staff rooms, ensuring cooling is available where it’s needed most.

Of course, while the sunny periods that many of us enjoyed over Easter have made us all optimistic of a warm spring and summer this year, no-one can really predict in advance whether schools will really need to worry about air conditioning for this summer’s exam season.  Whatever the weather, however, contingency planning is always a good idea and one of the other key advantages of temporary air conditioning unit hire is that the school’s cooling strategy can be rolled out as soon as the temperatures begin to soar.

By consulting a HVAC hire specialist in advance, a school can ensure that they have a plan in place identifying the most appropriate type of air conditioning unit and the most effective place to position the equipment.  At Andrews Sykes, we carry out free site surveys to determine the cooling load required and agree the number and type of units we will put in place, and where we will site them if the need arises.  The plan takes account of things like health & safety and access restrictions so that we don’t have to waste any time when the school decides it needs some air conditioning. 

Consulting a HVAC hire specialist also means that schools can be confident that they will be using the most appropriate cooling equipment for their needs. Split systems usually provide the most suitable solution in an education environment, enabling the school to keep doors and windows shut, which minimises disruption from external noise; an important consideration during exam times.  These portable air conditioning units have a remote condenser unit which ensures that the warm air is diverted away from the exam environment. At Andrews Sykes, the PAC 22 6.5Kw air conditioning unit is by far the most commonly specified unit because the condenser unit can be positioned up to 30m away from the cooling unit. What’s more, because it’s so light and portable, the air conditioning units can be moved without having to relocate the condenser unit as long as they remain within the 30m radius.

For larger sports halls, often the venue for exams with large numbers of candidates, it may be more appropriate to use industrial fans rather than air con units.  Once again, the advantage of going to a HVAC hire specialist is that they can recommend the kit that’s most suitable for the room in question.

There is nothing any of us can do to stop the words ‘you may begin’ from striking fear into the heart of any exam student.  However, with a bit of forward planning, a school can at least help them keep their cool as they try to remember everything they’ve learned in preparation for the next two hours.

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