Fred Glass's California Labor History class show off blankets and extra clothing that they need for the heatless campus. Photo courtesy of Glass. Taken spring semester, 2023.

Update: City College board prez calls for March 13 emergency meeting following Mission Local story, designates millions for heat fixes. See end for details…

Before the spring semester started at the City College of San Francisco’s Mission Campus, labor instructor Fred Glass warned his students that their new classroom would be like moving into an “igloo.” Two students with health concerns read the message, and immediately dropped the class.

“One was sick at the time, and said they didn’t want to get sicker. They never came,” Glass said. “And another one said she’s immunocompromised.” 

She had already taken a class in a cold classroom, and couldn’t do it again. She apologized and dropped. 

Glass couldn’t blame them. Three City College of San Francisco campuses, including Mission, John Adams in the Panhandle, and Ocean Campus, haven’t had working heat for months — and likely won’t have it back until at least the summer, when heat is less necessary. The entire Mission campus hasn’t had heat for years, teachers alleged. The boiler is broken. 

In response, the college’s administration has provided each teacher a free space heater and one packet of hand warmers. And, after years of cold classrooms, City College Board of Trustees President Alan Wong said the board will vote on a contracting bid to fix the boilers and pipes at the full board meeting on March 23. 

Chancellor David Martin did not immediately respond to an email from Mission Local, seeking comment. 

In an attempt to get the administration’s attention, teachers and union members started posting temperature logs outside rooms. One log reported a Mission classroom at 42 degrees. Out front of the third-floor faculty room, a bright orange log of the daily temperature shows 53 degrees on Feb. 27, and 55.9 degrees on Feb. 28. 

Research indicates that classroom temperatures should be between 68 and 75 degrees during the winter and 73 and 79 degrees during the summer months. In residential housing, lack of heat is a city emergency code violation. 

Finkelstein, the union’s grievance officer, also started a blog documenting heating issues in October, 2022. 

Yet, despite their recent efforts, staff feel a lack of urgency in remediation. A Feb. 21 update on Finkelstein’s blog stated that Chancellor Martin told the union that “the district does not have a timeline for repair.” 

“However, faculty who work in [Creative and Visual Arts buildings on Ocean campus] report there has been no heat there since before Covid,” the blog stated. 

Wong said he, too, has received emails from students saying they can’t attend class due to health concerns. “I’m just looking forward to getting this fixed, so we don’t have issues going forward. We need to fix it to ensure that we attract and keep them in our classes,” Wong said. 

Teachers called the administration’s response of heaters and hand warmers “laughable,” and a “Band-Aid solution” that does little for students and staff teaching and studying in an unusually chilly season. 

Every day so far this semester, Glass arrives at his Mission campus classroom and finds it no warmer than 56 degrees. He personally advocated for a second space heater, despite the administration’s warnings it may overwhelm the building’s electrical circuits. To warm up the room, or at least make it bearable, he arrives to his California Labor History class 90 minutes early, and blasts both heaters at opposite ends of the room. By the time students file out at 9:10 p.m., it “might get to 60 degrees.”

“This is serious. It’s a health and safety issue for faculty and students alike. And to be addressed with a space heater and hand warmers, it’s pathetic,” Glass said. 

“I’ve seen no research,” he added, “that a brain freeze is conducive to a quality education.”

Multiple teachers view it as unfair that the conditions fall onto a student body that is majority people of color, many of whom are low-income, immigrants, and working class. They trudge in bundled in heavy jackets and lugging blankets. “Most of my students work. And it’s hard enough to show up at an evening class working all day, and have this — stepping into the Arctic for two and a half hours,” Glass said. 

Malaika Finkelstein, a grievance officer with the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 and an instructor with Disabled Students Programs and Services, said her students, many who have disabilities, have taken note. 

“It’s just not okay. I had a student ask me, ‘why is this happening? Why don’t they care?’” Finkelstein recalled. “People who work at Mission Campus care deeply. But the people who control the purse strings — it feels like they don’t.”

Picking between class or the cold

Carolyn Cox teaches her ESL class mid-morning on Monday, March 6. The classroom has no heat. Photo taken by Annika Hom.

At Mission campus on Monday morning, Carolyn Cox, an ESL teacher, subbed for a 8:30 a.m. class whose teacher has been out with a long bout of Covid-19.  Already, the single space heater was hard at work in the classroom. It was 49 degrees outside and, even with the space heater, Cox was covered head-to-toe in an overcoat, scarf and boots. She was teaching three dozen Latinx immigrants object pronouns: Me, you, us. The lesson used “help” phrases as practical examples. 

“Please help me,” Cox said, emphasizing “me.” 

“Please help me,” repeated the class, some also bundled in jackets and hats. 

Cox spied a student at the front shiver with cold. 

“Emily is cold. Me too,” Cox said, rapidly moving her arms up and down her shoulders as she shut the door. 

We are cold,” Cox continued. “Please help us, City College!”  

One of the students in class on Monday, Miguel Gomez, 24, said each time he’s in this class, he’s cold. “It would be better to have two” heaters, Gomez said in Spanish. The conditions are “a distraction. It’s harder to learn if you’re uncomfortable.”

The season’s atmospheric rivers, rainstorms, and strong gusts of wind have made staying warm even more difficult. “This weather is not great,” said Cristian Martinez, a political science student who takes an evening class at Mission. 

“You’re breathing and you can see the [condensation] It’s like, are we outside?”

On Monday several teachers were out sick, and while it is impossible to know if the flu, Covid or a cold kept them out, the classroom temperatures do not help.  

Lessons can also get derailed. Sometimes classroom discussions turn into “how cold we are, instead of about the class,” Naomi Díaz, a 20-year-old Mexican immigrant and ESL student, said in Spanish.  

Her Guatemalan classmate, Kathrin Valladares, 33, who wore a sweater on Monday, agreed that it was hard to concentrate. “You need to wear a lot of clothes to be comfortable. Lots and lots of sweaters,” she said in Spanish. “This country… is very cold. This city is very cold!” 

“They need to fix it as soon as possible,” Valladares said. “So we’re healthy, so we can concentrate, and so the teacher can focus.” 

Michael Estrada, a political science teacher at Mission campus, lets his 6:10 to 9:10 p.m. class out one hour early, partly due to the cold. According to his log, it’s been between 53 and 57 degrees in his classroom. 

“That’s unbearable,” Estrada said. “Two hours is bad enough. Three hours? There is no way.”

Estrada struggles with blood circulation and minor arthritis, and finds it difficult to write at times. “I can manage it physically okay, but it makes me uncomfortable, and it makes me uncomfortable to see my students.” He’s considered using the hand warmer pack that the administration gave, but he thinks he’ll give it to a student instead. 

Administration suggested moving classes to Zoom, teachers said, but they don’t want to. Finkelstein said students with developmental disabilities work better in an in-person communication setting; classes like art, music or languages function well on-site. Some students who spent high school in Zoom classrooms said they don’t want to go back to Zoom. 

So instead, “dedicated” students brave the cold, said Glass.

Out of the icebox and into the Arctic

A log of the heat for Room 360 on the third-floor of Mission campus of City College of San Francisco. Photo taken by Annika Hom, March 6, 2023.

After the Monday 8:30 a.m. class ended, Cox popped into the third-floor faculty room on Mission Campus, known as “the coldest room of all!” 

As Cox swung the door open, a noticeably cold blast hit this reporter. “You could hang meat in there,” she remarked. Cox’s colleague, Anne Huntzinger, who was making copies, said matter-of-factly, “My toes are cold. I should start wearing my Uggs or something.” 

Cox agreed. Since Jan. 17, she’s worn long underwear or tights and wool socks, but today her right foot was without one. “My right foot is freezing.”

Huntzinger works at Ocean Campus too, where high-pressure steam pipes need to be replaced, and have caused some buildings to be “freezing.”

She said, “I go from here to there. From one icebox to the other.” 

Regardless of when the bid comes through to fix the heating, Spring 2023 students must brave the weather at least through semester’s end. 

Decked out in her overcoat on Monday, Cox faced her second chilly, English as a Second Language class of the day. The small class, diverse in age and ethnicity and united by thermal outerwear, were hungry to review possessive pronouns. Cox reviewed mine, his, hers, ours, then quizzed them.  

“Whose beautiful, cold classroom is this?” Cox said. 

Ours!” The students eagerly replied. 

Update, Friday, March 10: Following publication of this article, City College board president Alan Wong called for an emergency meeting on Monday regarding frigid CCSF buildings.

“The meeting will be on Monday, March 13, 5 p.m. at the Mission campus,” said Wong in a release. “In addition to demanding immediate action from our administration, I have agendized approval of $2.2 million for boiler replacements and facilities fixes for Mission, John Adams, and Wellness Center and discussion for adequate facilities department staffing.”

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Restrooms are so disgusting. I went to the administration to point out they are not getting maintenance.
    His answer was there are cuts and can’t pay janitors.

  2. The board will have a special meeting on Monday, 3/10 to approve contracts for boiler replacements at highly impacted campuses. This is great! Reviewing the CCSF budget however, they seem to have already budgeted for this expense. Looks like Trustee Wong is grandstanding. Just more politics from CCSF. Glad they budgeted for this though and are going to get it fixed now. Now we just need to predict future global weather patterns for S.F.

  3. This is more than NO HEAT!!!
    An inexperienced Chancellor who has defended an unaccountable VC in the name of “showing” Accreditation the college appears to be stable financially as our Students, Faculty and Classified employees are this Administrations COLLATERAL DAMAGE!!! Since the Board of Trustees forced Dr. Rocha out, back in 2017 an accurate assessment of any and all Facilities Maintenance that has happened since then at best is “slim and none”! $845 million Facilities bond and Administration can not give clear answers on anything other than spending money again on the Perforning Arts Center!
    No heat at the CCSF locations reported is a single issue that has been in front of this Administration from the moment classes opened in person following the pandemic. If Accreditation were really looking, they would see the failed Leadership and Operations at our institution, maybe then “someone” would have to be accountable.
    Leaking roofs, that have fallen in, Mold growing on the walls in classrooms, No heat, adding space heaters that has kicked power out in entire buildings. Buildings flooding. Facilities and Building and grounds informed me that the roof leaks in our office had been fixed because the rain had stopped, then laugh about it! Chancellor Martin stated in a meeting that our enrollment numbers had not bottomed out yet, maybe losing students because the classroom environment is not healthy, will he achieve his “bottom out” level?
    Thank you Annika for putting light on this issue of deferred maintenence that is not healthy for our Student!

    1. CCSF problems are not new. What is going on now is the result of years of neglect. Instead of using state and local funds to maintain facilities, lucrative financial deals were struck for certain groups, and people, while excluding others. Has anyone heard about the COVID leave payouts CCSF was providing? None of that money went to serve students or improve the facilities. So where is the accountability for past behavior, decisions, and the actions of certain groups and people? There has been none. And thank you Annika for having this forum. It is unfortunate what is happening at CCSF but maybe people will realize this stuff didn’t happen overnight. The heat in your house doesn’t work simply because two years passed and you didn’t service and maintain your heater unit. Or your house is dirty because you cleaned it. Or you are in financial trouble because you actually managed your finances and debt. All of these issues occur over time because you have not done something you could have or should have done. People are trying to paint the current situation as something that “just happened” due to mismanagement. I think we need to look deeper into the politics going on at CCSF.

  4. The lack of heat just represents a continuation of the destruction of CCSF and the taking away of educational opportunities for CCSF’s working class students who are mostly people of color–reinforcing structural racism and classism.
    Last year, some 38 full-time tenured faculty were laid-off joining the more than 400 part-time faculty who have lost their jobs in the last four years. Campuses have been closed–Fort Mason, Civic Center, the Airport and programs, such as ESL and the Older Adult one have been gutted.

  5. So if you want to talk about “systemic” racism and social inequality problems, THIS is a perfect example of what that looks like in the real world today. HR administrators, operations and facilities managers who are not particularly well-qualified or well-trained and who aren’t being held accountable to do their jobs well, take the easiest path to get through their work day. It’s human nature for most of us. And because they don’t care enough about their professional responsibilities, things at the bottom of their to-do list never get addressed.

    They aren’t racist per se, but if one of the tasks not on their daily to-do list is to address a complex problem that’s keeping the facilities they help run from maintaining a reasonable, healthy temperature for the students and staff who are largely people of color, but no one above them is demanding it gets fixed, well hey, I’m only paid to work until 5:30!

    And because those administrator-bureaucrats are themselves mostly people of color, they are shielded from being accused of “reinforcing systemic racism and inequality”, when in fact that’s exactly what they are doing.

    You see, it’s not just white men. Anyone can act racist if they don’t push back against systems that directly or indirectly are unfair to people of color. (And anyone of any color can be lazy and bad at their job, too.)

    1. No one has commented on why the college ran multi-million dollar deficits for years, or questioned if they are overstaffed or understaffed in certain areas. Apparently, the college is understaffed in operations, have more faculty than they need, and they have not budgeted to maintain their buildings for years. Instead, past practice was to hire people they didn’t need. Address areas of overstaffing, hire people to operate the buildings, and spend money to operate the buildings as they should be. And stay within your budget!

  6. This is really a problem in the child observation class which I bring my 19 month old grandaughter to at John Adams. Excellent teacher, very good for her and my development but freezing. So not fair. Lots of no shows.

  7. I wonder! They told us the pool is heated at Ocean campus but me and my classmates are shivering 95% of the time. And on account of the rain and cold these past weekends, 5-7 students are often no-shows.

    When I went to the YMCA at Embarcadero just yesterday, it was a hot tub by comparison.