By Ann Marie Galvan
City College has endured cold classroom conditions since at least October 2022, according to an AFT 2121 blog documenting the problem. Classroom temperatures can be as low as the 50s on the Mission, Ocean, and John Adams campuses. To combat the cold, the administration has proposed two solutions: using space heaters or moving to different classrooms. Both suggestions are “inadequate half-measures,” said the union.
Heating has been an issue for “years”, Mary Bravewoman, AFT 2121 faculty union president, told The San Francisco Standard in December 2022.
The boilers on the Mission and John Adams campuses are broken and the district “is in the process of getting bids to have them replaced,” said Chancellor David Martin, in a Feb. 1 briefing with AFT 2121. However he did not offer a clear and definite schedule of when this would happen.
Currently, there are several known issues with the heating for buildings on Ocean Campus. The “high-pressure steam piping” in the Science Hall needs to be replaced and will require external assistance. The heating system in the Arts Extension is “obsolete” and needs a new boiler and a “full reconfiguration.” This “$1 million plus project” is currently being designed. Finally, the “geothermal well system” in the Multi-Use Building has been replaced, but some of the equipment is not working properly, causing inconsistent temperatures.
Martin said, on City College’s Jan. 13 Flex Day, that the Visual Arts building on Ocean Campus should have heat by fall 2023, according to the AFT 2121 blog.
Campus Heating Problems Impact Faculty
Monique Comacchio, a Visual Media Design Department instructor on the Ocean Campus, said that after six hours of teaching the eight space heaters in her room can help with the cold, but they are not sufficient.
“Everybody’s cold. It’s hard to concentrate. You can’t stay there very long. Your hands start getting numb,” she said. “It’s hard to write. It’s hard to punch on the computer.”
Comacchio is concerned for her students’ ability to learn. The frigid conditions are hard for the students, who can spend hours sitting in classrooms. “What can I say?” Comacchio said. “It’s not like we’re doing calisthenics. It’s not like we’re a P.E. class. Have you ever spent time in a cold room for hours on end?”
The cold facilities also impact how Comacchio can teach, and she has had to cut down some of her curriculum. She also wears layers to try to keep warm. “I’m wearing long underwear. I’m wearing a couple of shirts. I’m wearing a sweater, wool socks — a couple pairs of wool socks.”
Comacchio has been trying to get the broken heat addressed with little success, and said that the lack of communication about a “serious and profound problem with our facilities” is frustrating. “I just don’t understand how this is even possible, legally, to force people to work in environments that are in these conditions,” she said.
After repeated attempts to contact the chancellor’s office, she was eventually contacted by a representative who offered to provide jackets for her students as a solution for the cold. “I was really frustrated and angry,” Comacchio said.
Inadequate Heating Causes Discomfort and Hinders Learning for Students
The frigid conditions make it hard for students to learn. Juliana Izquierdo, a student in an ESL class on Mission Campus that meets Monday-Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:20 a.m., said that she finds it difficult to concentrate because of the cold and she can’t do as well as she wants in class, although she does the best that she can.
Izquierdo is taking three classes and can spend up to nine hours on the Mission Campus. She added that all her classrooms are cold, and often it is colder inside than it is outside.
She was wearing a flannel long-sleeve shirt and a thick sherpa jean jacket over a warm base layer, as well as insulated pants and boots as she spoke to The Guardsman in class on a Friday morning in February,
Viktoriia Serohina, another student in the same class, said that she also wears layers to keep warm. Serohina was wearing a heavy yellow parka and a fleece sweater, and she said that she wished the room had heat.
The classroom had one small space heater in the back of the room, but it was insufficient to heat the entire space. Instructor Benjamin Finateri said there are no more available space heaters on Mission Campus to check out for the classroom, and that the space heater they had was the last that was available.
Student Guisela Kaisen said that she has complicated health problems that are made worse by the room’s low temperatures. She always dresses warmly and brings a scarf, she said, but she still often suffers from a runny nose.
The Responsibility of Administration
Comacchio said that AFT 2121 wants to make adequate heating in the buildings a bargaining issue, but she thinks that the administration should handle it without negotiation because “it is the job of an administrator to provide a functioning work environment.”
Comacchio questioned the delay in updating the facilities at City College and believes the college should prioritize students and faculty and evaluate where its values lie. “Do we not live in San Francisco? What kind of economy do we live under that they can’t even provide heat in a public room?”
City College’s Office of Facilities and Capital Planning did not offer comment for this story.