PHOENIX, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - School districts across Arizona report that it can take months to get air conditioning systems replaced, if they use the system the state set up to fund building repairs.

"Having to wait four, six, eight months to do an AC replacement is a long time," said James Burns, who is the executive manager of operational support at Tucson's Amphitheater Unified School District.

[WATCH: How hard is it to replace a broken air conditioning unit at an Arizona school?]

Burns is just one of the school administrators who pointed to delays in HVAC replacement. Arizona's Family sent surveys to every public school district in Arizona, asking about frustrations and challenges that affect student success, among other questions.

[SPECIAL SECTION: The State of Our Schools, The search for solutions]

"We have now reached the end of the life life cycle of maybe dozens of those units around campus," said Mike Wescott, who is the superintendent of Mingus Union High School District in Cottonwood. He says he's not sure how he's going to replace them.

"You’re talking any one or two of those can be a 20,30, $40,000 project. Multiply that by a dozen or more," said Wescott.

In the past Arizona school districts were required to fund capital projects and maintenance and operations through bonds. But 20 years ago, the state created the School Facilities Board (SFB) to help public school district complete renovation and repair projects.

It is the School Facilities Board that many administrators accuse of taking too much time and requiring too much red tape to get projects approved.

During the Great Recession, state leaders swept tens of millions of dollars from the SFB. Administrators say the board earned a reputation for being difficult to work with during that time.

But now, the current executive director says he regularly approves money for things like air conditioners on an emergency basis.

"It can be a matter of hours, but really never much longer than 24 hours to get something corrected so students can be brought back into the classroom," said Paul Bakalis.

He says he approved 182 emergency AC projects in the past year. Those projects could cost no more than $50,000.

Many HVAC projects are more expensive, and they do require more layers of approval from the state, and can take months to complete. But Bakalis doesn't refer to that as "red tape."

"When you're talking about a project that's hundreds of thousands of dollars, we do our due diligence. That process, on a big project, takes time. So if they think due diligence is red tape, then that's probably not a good way to look at it," said Bakalis.

But school district officials still see it differently.

"When an HVAC mechanic can't be the one to decide whether an air conditioner is broken and you actually have to hire an engineer to do that. I mean, that's red tape and that's 6-8 weeks just to get that process going," said James Burns, from Amphitheater Unified School District.

 

Morgan Loew's hard-hitting investigations can be seen weekdays on CBS 5 News at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
 
 


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