School HVAC system declared an emergency

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Board takes quick action to replace old units

By Jesse Osbourne

School board members were greeted with unpleasant news on Wednesday during a work session.

The heating and cooling unit in the gym at Washington County High School had been not working well, and it looked like a new system was needed. The heating situation has been declared an emergency, which should expedite the process of replacing the units.
“I’m going to tell you something, it is an emergency,” Fred Boone, a licensed electrician, said. “The only reason that you’ve got heat in that second unit is nobody that’s licensed has looked at it.”
Boone has only had the unit described to him, he has never looked at the unit.
Two units are in place to heat the gym, but one unit was condemned in the past due to a cracked heat exchange, according to district maintenance director Ray Kelty.
Kelty said two of the four compressors in the existing unit are broken.
According to Boone, the units were installed in 1996. When the units were installed, he said, they weren’t put in according to the plans that were drawn up.
“As far as to why it’s installed the way it is, and why it’s different from what the documents say it should have been, I don’t know,” he said.
Boone said the air return was too high for proper air flow.
Boone also addressed the issue of the duct work sweating.
“That could be a combination of any or several different things,” Boone said. “More than likely, it’s a factor of low air, not enough air returning to the unit, and some of the compressors have failed.”
He said with improper installation and controls that have been ‘rigged’ to keep working, the unit doesn’t have a chance to continue functioning.
“I don’t think they have a chance of working on a continued basis if you replenish them,” he said, “unless you fix the problems in the duct work and get that to operate the way that they should be operating to start out with.”
Boone recommended not adding to the capacity of the HVAC system because of the new high school being built.
“You’re using it as a multi-purpose facility now,” he said. “When you get the new high school, I don’t think you’ll be using it as a mult-purpose facility.”
Boone said the current units are set up to allow a certain percentage of outside air in. With a new unit, a carbon dioxide sensor could determine the amount of outside air brought in.
“You can control your outside air with a (carbon dioxide) sensor instead of just an automatic damper that comes open to 35 percent, and you’re all the time trying to condition a larger volume of air based on quantities instead of need,” he said. “If you put a (carbon dioxide) sensor in there, it monitors and then (distributes) your outside air accordingly.”
Boone said the units don’t pose a health risk to anyone in the building because of the large space and the amount of outside air coming in. If the outside air weren’t coming in, it would be cause for alarm.
“If it was like 100 percent recycled air, then you would have the possibility of putting some people to sleep due to carbon monoxide,” Boone said. “The fact that the heat exchanger is cracked, then, it’s technically illegal to run it. It’s not dangerous, only because of the outside air, and only because the damper stays 35 percent open all the time.”
As a precaution, superintendent Robin Cochran said via email Sunday night that carbon monoxide sensors have been installed in the gym.
Kelty said the unit is causing problems almost daily.
“The warning signs are there,” board member Nora Hatton said about replacing the units.
“I think it’s a little bit past the warning signs, but legally, I don’t want to look at it,” Boone said. “Because if I cut all the heat off in that gym real quick, somebody is going to really start complaining. If I go up to look at it, I don’t have any choice, by law, other than to shut it off.”
Board members were unable to get a price estimate from Boone, who said he didn’t have enough information yet to guess.
Finance director Judy Spalding indicated that if the cost exceeded $20,000, the board would have to solicit bids.
Boone said he guessed it would take four to six weeks to have the unit made, depending on which company the board opted to go with.
Cochran said via email Sunday that since the work session, the situation has been declared an emergency. The decision, she said, will allow the school board to move quicker to fix the problem.

Band trip
The board voted to approve the Washington County High School band trip to Orlando, Fla. to perform at Universal Studios from March 30, 2012 to April 4, 2012.
According to the meeting agenda, approximately 30 students, two faculty sponsors and 15 adult chaperones would be in attendance.
Board member Buffy Mann said she thought the cost of travel seemed expensive.
“They’ve got their own money, and I don’t see any parents here saying they don’t want to go,” board member Pat Clements said.
Hatton said she recommended that the band should shop around for a program with more educational value in the future.
She said she knows that there are dozens of music programs around the country, even some in Orlando, that offer more educational value.
Clements made a motion to approve the trip. Hatton seconded the motion.
Board member Curtis Hamilton was absent from the special-called session. The next regular scheduled meeting is Dec. 19 at North Washington.