- Eye on Media
By Dale Hatfield
The Coquille School District has received a $1.2 million bond loan to make improvements to the schools. The majority of it is going toward the replacement of the air handling part of the heating and cooling system at Coquille Valley School. It will replace an obsolete constant volume system with a modern variable volume system. This entails replacing the seven rooftop units, gutting out the ceiling throughout the building to replace/reroute the ducting, adding forty-three terminal units (each with four or five valves, plumbing, radiator, dampers with actuator motors plus the related sensors) connected and controlled by computer. The old boilers and pumps will be used without replacement. Boiler #2 is due for re-tubing right now and boiler #1 was re-tubed in 2009.
This upgrade is intended to replace an outdated system, while achieving better efficiency for lowered cost. Being the previous Facilities Manager for the district until last August and having viewed the new design I have to say that they have missed the mark in a few areas. I know the building and its shortcomings better than any other. If the project goes as planned without change, they will keep some problems that plagued the old system from day one and miss out on an opportunity to save money. The engineers did a good job designing a standard variable volume air system as requested, but the district made the decision to replace the system without input from anyone that knows how the building and its systems work.
The building is uninsulated concrete block construction. During the warm months while school is in session we get fog or overcast weather that dissipates around 11:00 am. The sun never gets a chance to shine directly on the east walls and the rooms stay cool most of the day. The west walls do get full sun starting at noon and the rooms on that side quickly heat up. The result is you end up with one side calling for heat and the other for cooling at the same time causing the boiler to run while the air conditioning is also running. The system operates with conflicting inputs and this causes sudden temperature changes in the classrooms with complaints as result. The new system may handle this condition better, but the overall potential energy efficiency will not be realized. To fix the operating problems at the middle school and save the most money, the east and west classroom exterior facing walls should be insulated.
As far as breakdowns go, the middle school and high school have about an equal number each year depending on how much time is dedicated to system maintenance during the summer. During the summer of 2011, no HVAC or other mechanical maintenance was done at any of the schools due to the many other projects superintendent Sweeney desired to be done.
Another issue being left in place is the oversized hot water tank that is four times bigger than needed. The tank was originally sized for showering, towel laundry, restrooms and kitchen. There are no more showers or towel laundry, so having a hot water tank this size is wasting money to heat. I recall the tank being about 1200 to 1500 gallons. Keeping the tank hot that runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the next fifty years is a major waste of energy and money. The high school operates just fine with a 500 gallon tank (they take showers there) and Lincoln Elementary runs a 120 gallon tank. The middle school would be just fine with a 300 gallon tank.
Lastly for this project, the middle school gym is used for just two or three daily classes plus nights and weekends for athletics, while the rest of the building is not in use. To make heat, water is heated by the boiler and circulated throughout the building, no matter if the heat is for one room or all. The boiler alone holds around 1200 gallons and the rest of the building pipes hold another 2000 gallons or so. The boiler burns fifty-five gallons of diesel or equivalent natural gas per hour and it takes a good hour just to get the system to operating temperature from a cold start. For a two hour game it could burn three barrels worth of diesel plus electricity for pumps and blowers. The gym heater should be isolated from the rest of the system, by way of a separate small boiler and could be installed in the space made available by removal of the old water tank.
The money saved by making these three changes (wall insulation, water tank, gym heat) could surpass what will be saved by replacing the air handling system and could be done at a reasonable cost.
In the last two years, the school district has not been as open in sharing information as it was in the past, so it is difficult finding out how all of the $1.2 million will be spent. I have read that $700,000 is for the HVAC system, $30,000 for the high school track, some carpeting, re-roofing part of Lincoln Elementary and some playfield work. This should leave money for other needed projects I list here.
Now concerning the fire sprinklers in the Coquille High School gym; the water main is already installed, but there are no laterals or sprinklers to protect the building and occupants. The job was supposed to be done during the last bond issue remodel but wasn’t done due to value-engineering, aka lack of money. This is the highest occupancy building in the city and therefore the highest risk for injury or death from fire. The State Fire Marshal became upset when he found out the work had not been done as the district promised even though the attic had caught fire in the past.
Also, there are no fire sprinklers in the girl’s locker room at the high school. The boy’s locker room had sprinklers installed during the last remodel, but due to a shortage of money (or maybe the district values girls lives less than boys) they didn’t put fire sprinklers in the girl’s locker room.
The natural gas conversion at the high school needs to be completed. The two unit heaters that heat the locker rooms are currently running propane as are the kitchen and metal shop. Natural gas is about half the price of propane. This is a $12,000 job that will save between $5,000 and $10,000 per year and should have been done one of the past two summers, but was not in favor of doing work with more visual appeal. This job would also rid the school of three large propane tanks that are a potential safety issue.
The back wall of the high school kitchen is part of the uninsulated walk-in cooler. Water condenses inside the wall creating dry rot and mold. The cooler should have been replaced last year when the new walk-in freezer was installed, but was not because of a management decision. The wall is both unsafe and a health issue and needs to be replaced.
The district has polluted Cunningham Creek for many years, because the wash pad at the bus barn drains directly into the creek. Soap from washing the buses, tractor and painting equipment, and runoff from the parking lot mixed with oil and diesel from leaking buses is dumped into the creek right at the salmon S.T.E.P. The wash pad should be replaced and connected to the city sewage system.
Blow-down water from the high school boiler is released daily across the parking lot into the gutter and then drains into Cunningham Creek. This water has caustic chemicals in it that requires safety equipment be worn when handling. The boiler blow-down should be connected to the city sewage system as well.
There is no ventilation of the indoor air at Lincoln Elementary School. One day around April of 2011 the carbon dioxide level of the classrooms was spot checked and showed the levels to be as high as 1570 ppm CO2, when sampled ten minutes after the children and the teacher had left the rooms. The district decided not to inform people about this and to have professionals perform an indoor air quality study at all schools. I don’t know if the study was done, but I do know that the lack of ventilation can lead to more student illnesses and may cause reduced ability to learn.
These needs are all high priority and should be of great concern to the Coquille School District Board of Directors. Unfortunately, the school board members show little interest in building maintenance at the board meetings and rarely ask questions. Interest and enthusiasm by the members is mostly seen when the talk is about the sports teams and games. If the board members are only interested in sports they should just read the newspaper. If the safety and health of the school occupants are of little concern, then why do we even have a school board?
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of MGx.