MASON COUNTY — Air conditioning — and the lack of it in some local schools — has become the “hot” topic around the county since classes resumed last week.
In affected schools, temperatures have easily been reaching the upper 80s to lower 90s in some classrooms, while other portions of the buildings are freezing.
Unlike the days of “old,” school starts earlier than it used to for children (and adults) who were raised with air conditioning. Needless to say, students and staff have been making the best of it through some dog days of August.
In addition, angry, impatient parents have been starting to voice their concerns, asking when the issues will be fixed and why they weren’t addressed sooner? The heat and humidity have caused students to be dismissed early, but this is a Catch 22 for the administration. Though it gets children out of the heat, it has left some parents without child care during a time kids are typically in school.
On Friday, Superintendent Jack Cullen released a statement about the situation which has been affecting so many staff members and students. Cullen was personally visiting different schools on Friday as well, checking on the progress of repairs and consulting with administrators about the temporary arrangements in place, including the use of industrial fans and moving students to other areas within their own buildings to keep cool, until the situation is fixed for everyone.
Cullen said, during the time the HVAC units have been down, he’s had daily conference calls with the contractor, subcontractors, and the Mason County School’s Maintenance Department to get continual updates on progress.
At around noon on Friday, Cullen reported the air conditioning at Roosevelt Elementary had been repaired. As for those still waiting on a fix, and all those waiting on an explanation and the other side of the story, Cullen’s statement is as follows:
”Mason County Schools has several hundred air conditioning units spread throughout 12 schools. Many of these units are approaching the end of their useful life. As this happens, maintenance issues often increase. This summer, maintenance issues arose as several compressors, coils and fans failed. Additionally, some units were temporarily out of service due to control upgrades that were delayed because of an extended internet service outage that prevented programming from being implemented remotely. Because of the floods through central West Virginia at the end of June, Frontier was unable to move the data lines from the old Central Office to the new Central Office until Aug. 1. Consequently, the Internet was down for over three weeks. Instead of being able to remotely program the new controllers, the company had to come on site to manually program each unit during the three-week period the Internet was down.
“During the first week of August, I was made aware of over 70 separate issues on HVAC units. The county reached out to the contractors working on the energy improvement project to help quickly address the items. Within one week, our combined team has worked to address 90 percent of the issues with most of the remaining units with issues awaiting parts.
“Aged infrastructure is not a new challenge and is not one that can easily be addressed. The capital investment required to replace some of the county’s oldest mechanical equipment will be well over $1 million. The recent energy improvement project funded by the West Virginia School Building Authority included the HVAC controls upgrade. This improvement will help the county manage and reduce operating costs associated with the HVAC system. It will also allow us to investigate, manage and troubleshoot our aging infrastructure faster. This strategy will allow the county to more efficiently and cost-effectively manage our equipment. Simultaneously, we are working to identify equipment with continuous issues and prioritize equipment replacements as funding becomes available.
“During the time the HVAC units have been down, I have had a daily conference call with our contractor, subcontractors, and our maintenance department to get an update on progress. Also, I have been in contact with our local Mason County Health Department. The Mason County Health Department advised us to move students to cooler areas of the school or take them outside to shaded areas when classrooms become excessively hot. If the majority of a school’s AC goes down and the temperature and humidity are very high in the school, I will dismiss them. I know this is an inconvenience to parents when this happens because of the quick arrangements parents must make to provide child care. Further, I have already asked the next question: Will the heat work when it becomes cool outside?
“Please be patient while we work through this situation. Thank you for your cooperation.”
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.