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Luther and Lakeview Upgrades

Pandemic Relief Fight COVID and the Flu at Elementary Schools

On a late May day, Lakeview Elementary School can get really hot inside. It’s not uncommon for those sunny spring days to raise the inside air temperature to 90 degrees or more.


“Those hot days make it really hard to learn, let alone teach,” Principal Christopher Sepersky said. If there’s no breeze, open windows don’t help, and noisy fans provide limited relief. 


Lakeview, and its sister school E.W. Luther, are the only two schools in the South Milwaukee school district that don’t have central air conditioning – but not for long. 


This summer the schools will get new AC systems with hospital-quality air filters that can capture influenza and, more importantly, the coronavirus. 


Standing in a music room at Lakeview, Bill King, School District of South Milwaukee manager of Buildings and Grounds, gestured to the old air handler under the windows. 


“Air conditioning is the cherry on top. The main goal is better air quality in this building,” he said  “All of the classrooms have this unit, which will be replaced.” 


The air unit, which sits under a window with shelving on each side has seen its fair share of students come in and out of the room. The underside of the vents gives away that the unit was once painted brown, and is now beige. There’s no way to know how many other colors the unit has been since it was installed when the building was built in 1957. The shelves which bookend it have similar layers of tidy paint. Those will have to go, too, to make room for the bigger air handling unit, and new shelves will be installed.


The AC upgrades for the two schools and the electrical improvements needed to support them will cost a cool $2.5 million - paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. ESSER funds are one-time COVID relief funding from the Federal government given to help schools cope with the new short-term demands the pandemic has wrought. 


A project of this scope and cost is not easy for the district to do without ESSER funding, especially not now. South Milwaukee is grappling with shrinking revenues due to two years of zero increase in per-student aid in the state budget. 


That, combined with dipping enrollment and soaring inflation puts the district in a bind. The district was forced to make cuts to the 2022-23 budget and faces tougher cuts in the 2023-24 budget. That’s all despite record surpluses in government coffers. 


“Our elected officials told us to use our federal pandemic relief money to plug our budget,” Blaise Paul, district Director of Business Services, said. “That’s not what it’s for. It’s for pandemic relief, like the improvements at Luther and Lakeview. If we took their suggestion, in a year or two we’d be in the same place we are now, maybe worse off, with large budget cuts and nothing left to fight the next variant or new virus that pops up.”


King, looking down the lunchroom hallway at Lakeview as students filed in with their lunchboxes, said the improvements to the school will do a lot to keep students in the classrooms.


“I’ve been here long enough, that if we get a flu going through here it could shut the building down,” he said. “Keeping our kids in school is the most important thing.”