As members of the Wellston City Schools Board of Education convened for their first meeting in 2017, the topic of ongoing issues with HVAC controls and equipment at various district buildings was once again revisited.
During Monday night's meeting, a total of three legislative items were on the agenda regarding these issues. These items included: a job proposal for the replacement of or repairs to various HVAC systems at Bundy Elementary, Wellston Middle School (WMS), Wellston High School (WHS), and the Administration Office, which totaled $32,000; a change order to the district's existing agreement with DiMarco & Associates LLC to add the controller replacement work and to increase the contract sum in the amount of $183,136; and a resolution to waive the competitive bidding process for the pre-purchase of a cooling tower for Bundy Elementary based upon an urgent necessity at an estimated cost of $110,000.
Present at Monday's meeting to better explain these issues were District Maintenance Supervisor Paul Sims, Phil Griffith of Kramer Engineers, and Todd Dian of DiMarco & Associates.
The majority of the problems facing the district with regard to the HVAC control systems stem from work performed by HEAT Total Facility Solutions, Inc. back in 2009 during the House Bill 264 project. According to Griffith, a total of 51 heat pump controls have been replaced to date throughout the various school buildings, and the change order approved Monday night will take care of the remaining 118 controls. As crews from DiMarco & Associates are already present and on task, Griffith told board members the time to act is now.
"The [controls] you have now are failing," Griffith said Monday. "The system will continue to fail if the work is not done."
One of the biggest problems with the process, according to Dian, has been the contractors' inability to access the HVAC system's software. He stated he has reached out to HEAT representatives, but did not receive much assistance.
"They pretty much told us to go kick rocks," Dian explained. "They just don't want to help."
Superintendent Karen Boch explained there are rooms in the various school facilities where the temperatures cannot be regulated. She said, though a temperature set point can be altered, the system automatically changes itself back in a timeframe of anywhere from three seconds to three hours. Dian stated the dual-stage compressors for the controllers were meant to alternate and kick on according to demand.
However, the way the systems were wired resulted in both compressors kicking on at the same time, which in turn, resulted in a shorter lifespan for the equipment and a large number of system failures.
Dian described the wiring and installation of these HVAC units as "atrocious" with no continuity in installation procedures from unit to unit. He said the system is not accepting temperature set points or even basic commands. Dian said HEAT officials have stated the team from DiMarco & Associates is not "using the correct protocol," though Dian said this is not the case.
With regard to the cooling tower issues at Bundy Elementary, Griffith told board members the current tower is failing, due in large part to its age. Boch said the tower has been in use for approximately 15 years, which according to Griffith, is right around the average lifespan for such a unit. Estimated repair costs for the tower total $28,000, which Griffith said is nearly one third of the price for a new unit. Considering all of these factors, Griffith recommended the board approve the purchase of a new cooling tower at an estimated price of $110,000.
As these costs seem excessive, Board President Terry Gill felt it was pertinent to explain the situation to the taxpayers of Wellston.
"We had faulty work done and the equipment is not working properly," Gill said. "In order to achieve efficiency, we have to fix the systems and do this work."
In the long run, Gill said whether or not the district gets money back from the state or other sources for this "faulty work," the efficiency of the new systems will pay for the work currently being done.
"We have to do it because we are throwing more money than that out the door every year," Gill stated.
Though there will be some kinks to work out with the new HVAC systems, Dian said forward progress is being made, and the problems are reaching a point of resolution. He further stated all of the work his and Griffith's companies have undertaken has been documented and will be presented to the board once complete.
Superintendent Boch told the board that she will continue to keep the district's attorneys abreast of the situation.
Near the end of Monday's meeting, in addressing the age of the current school facilities in general, Griffith stated, "Unfortunately, the school designs were not the 100-year school designs like the old high school or Coalton school."