Mechanical problems dog RFSD schools
Ongoing issues with mechanical systems in some of the facilities built with money from the last Roaring Fork School District bond issue provide a good lesson in what not to cut from the project budgets as the district prepares for the next round of projects.
Three schools that were built after the 2004 bond issue — Glenwood Springs High School and Roaring Fork High and Crystal River Elementary schools in Carbondale — utilized what’s called a displacement heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.
In the case of GSHS, the district two years ago received a $500,000 court settlement against the contractors for expenses it incurred to fix the system and install a hot water baseboard heating system in the new building section that was completed in 2008.
“That was a much larger issue that we were able to have remedied,” said Shannon Pelland, chief financial officer for the school district.
Still today, the HVAC systems at the two Carbondale schools, which did include baseboard heat in the original design, have not fully performed to the level they were supposed to, she said.
That has resulted in classrooms and other areas of the buildings that are sometimes either too hot or too cold, and generally inconsistent air flow.
“The biggest issue at those two buildings is that we didn’t have the systems commissioned to ensure they were operating over time the way they were designed and the way the owner said they would,” Pelland said. “It’s a pretty intensive process, and is a step we did not complete.”
Pelland noted that the systems installed in several buildings that were constructed with the 1993 bond issue, including Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs, were far less complex than the ones that came with the 2004 bond issue.
“It was absolutely a lesson learned that commissioning is something we will have to do from now on,” she said.
Especially as the district embarks on the next round of construction projects included with the $122 million bond issue that was approved by district voters last month, follow-up commissioning for the mechanical systems will be crucial, she said.
Among those projects will be a new $34.5 million pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school south of Glenwood Springs on the district’s Eastbank property, as well as a $29 million makeover for the existing Glenwood Springs Elementary School.
Some of the new bond money will also go to recommission mechanical systems in some of the older facilities, including the original section of Crystal River that was built after the 1993 bond, Pelland said.
The issue at RFHS is more around making sure the system controls are working properly. Typically, an owner’s representative will stay on board for a period of time once the new facilities are open to make sure the systems are operating before turning them over to district maintenance staff, she also explained.
All of the systems from the last round of construction are now in the hands of the district, but having adequate staff to keep up with a dozen different facilities is another challenge, Pelland said.
“We could probably use a HVAC tech for every building, especially whenever there’s a change of seasons,” she said. But that’s not realistic from a budget standpoint, she added.
Roaring Fork High School did have a semi-related issue the Monday after Thanksgiving break when the boilers did not come on as they were supposed to.
The problem in that instance, according to RFHS Principal Drew Adams, was that the contractor installing the solar array outside the school needed to turn off the power to the building while the students and staff were not there.
Everything was tested to make sure the heating system came back on properly, but for some reason the night before school was to start back up on Nov. 30 the boilers did not fire up, Adams said. Teachers and staff had to contend with cold classrooms before the problem was fixed, and the heat was back on by midmorning, he said.
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