Rob Rogers, principal of St. Catherine of Siena School, hopes air conditioning units damaged by thieves will be replaced before teachers return to campus Aug. 11.
Rob Rogers, principal of St. Catherine of Siena School, hopes air conditioning units damaged by thieves will be replaced before teachers return to campus Aug. 11.

Phoenix police are processing evidence at St. Catherine of Siena School following the Aug. 1 theft of copper connected to five air conditioning units. Damage is estimated at up to $6,000 per unit.

Rob Rogers, principal, is working with the police department and insurance to get the systems back up and running before teachers return Aug. 11 and students return Aug. 19. He said a maintenance worker arrived at school around 5:30 a.m. Aug. 1. Shortly after 7 a.m., he discovered the destruction.

St. Catherine of Siena’s south side suffered the most. That’s where three units powering the fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms were stripped, two of them largely down to the core. That side of the school faces a dead end road, which only extends a block past the school, but is mostly visible through a wrought iron fence. Police discovered shoe prints leaving the scene on each side of the gate.

The school, located on Central Avenue south of Southern Avenue, had some lightning, thunder and a little rain overnight leaving a clearer shoe print in the hardened dirt. Rogers said the weather also made the school more vulnerable because potential witnesses would be indoors.

The school’s field and playground area sits around the corner on the east side. All of those air conditioning units are caged in, but that didn’t stop the suspect or suspects.

Two units were stripped for copper parts inside one cage leaving grades 2-4 without air conditioning. The lock was broken on another cage. Three units were not affected by the theft.

“We have a great, great family unit here who wants to help,” Rogers said.

By late morning, one parent who regularly works on air conditioning units came over. Another who installs them also offered to help. Administrators are working with insurance and scrambling to see if they need to take out a loan to expedite repairs or installation.

Copper is a hot commodity thieves pursue in order to try to sell it as scrap material. Last summer, criminals hit a busy Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles office in Phoenix, taking out copper wiring and forcing the office to close temporarily. In February, thieves stole an entire roll of copper from an Arizona Public Service facility in Phoenix.

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