Roaring Fork Schools working to solve issues with Glenwood High’s HVAC system before student return next month
Issues with the heating, ventilation and cooling mechanical system at Glenwood Springs High School is one hurdle the school district needs to clear before students can return next month.
The Roaring Fork School District has been installing ionization units within the HVAC systems in buildings from Glenwood to Basalt to provide cleaner airflow and hopefully help prevent disease spread, including that of COVID-19, when students begin returning in larger numbers next week.
The district is slated to begin the pivot from online distance learning to providing the option of in-person instruction in phases, starting with kindergarten through third grade next week.
After that, grades five through eight would return to the classroom the week of Oct. 26, followed by high schools on Nov. 2.
To get there, though, facilities managers have been working through challenges related to some of the newer HVAC systems, including the one at GSHS.
“There is a history of frustration about the comfort level in that building, with it being too hot or too cold, not enough air flow, and a lack of operable windows,” Superintendent Rob Stein said.
“We have set some standards with the ionization, filtration and air circulation, and have said we will not open those buildings if we don’t meet those standards,” he said.
The district in 2013 reached a $500,000 court settlement with contractors related to the HVAC system that was installed when the high school underwent a major expansion and renovation between 2005 and 2008.
The HVAC system was included as part of the larger $30 million project, which was funded as part of a voter-approved mill levy and bond issue in 2004.
According to the lawsuit filed in February 2012, district officials were convinced to install what was billed as a “highly efficient” displacement system at GSHS and other facilities in Carbondale, instead of a conventional HVAC system.
The Glenwood project involved a new, two-level classroom wing, theater, music room, gymnasium, cafeteria and administrative offices. Renovated sections of the old high school building were incorporated into the design.
Soon after the building was completed and the 2008-09 school year began, problems related to the heating and cooling system surfaced.
Those challenges have returned as the district works to install the necessary facility upgrades as part of its coronavirus-response. Much of those improvements are being made using federal CARES Act dollars that were made available to schools to deal with COVID-relates expenses.
“We have commissioned a study to diagnose the problems and have already begun extensive repairs,” Stein said in memo before the school board for its Wednesday evening meeting. “Adequate airflow, filtration and ionization must be in place before welcoming large numbers of students into our buildings.”
GSHS, at roughly 1,000 students, is by far the biggest high school in the district, compared to about 500 students at Basalt High and 400 students at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.
Aside from the mechanical systems, simply managing that many students — although a certain percentage are likely to opt to remain on a distance learning plan — is challenging in and of itself, Stein said.
The larger “Return to In-Person Learning” plan will be a major topic of discussion when the school board convenes at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14 for its regular twice-monthly meeting, held remotely via Zoom.
Included in the discussion will be a recommendation about monitoring risk levels for disease spread in the community ahead of and after the school reopenings.
The board is also slated to take action on temporary agreements for the 2020-21 school year for certified staff, also related to what will continue to be a mix of in-person and distance learning for Roaring Fork District students and teachers.
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