A state lawmaker concerned about hot classrooms in his district was rebuffed when he tried to attend a meeting Thursday morning with school officials and contractors involved with an expedited $100 million air-conditioning project.

Matt LoPresti, a Democrat representing Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages, Hoakalei and Ocean Pointe on Oahu, was told he could not join the Department of Education meeting at McKinley High School, as it was private.

The representative was eventually allowed in but was not permitted to ask questions.

“For me personally, the situation was resolved, but I was rather shocked to be turned away like that,” he said. “It’s too important to the people in my district and the kids across the state to not have an elected official present if they want to help oversee this.”

LoPresti said he had been under the impression that Dan Carlson, the DOE’s assistant superintendent of facilities, had invited him to the meeting. But a DOE spokesman said that the invitation apparently was not followed through on.

Rep Matt Lopresti during HECO intervenor presser at the Capitol. 19 july 2016
Rep. Matt LoPresti at a press conference at the Capitol earlier this month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The DOE’s Brent Suyama said the meeting involved representatives of 36 qualified contractors, subcontractors and other companies for the AC project. The purpose was to clear up “some potential misconceptions regarding the project” on matters such as design.

As widely reported earlier this summer, the first bids for the project came in very high.

“We think we have some clarity on a bunch of the issues,” Suyama said of Thursday’s meeting.

Suyama said there are concerns about having a sitting lawmaker somehow involved in the state’s procurement process.

But LoPresti said that, while the procurement code is an “important way to maintain integrity for government contracts, this is a special situation and a special meeting where there is a lot of public questions about additional costs from contractors.”

The Hawaii Legislature and the governor approved the $100 million appropriation for the AC projects earlier this year.

Hot classrooms have been a longstanding problem in many schools around the state.

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