By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Madison-Plains Local Schools continues to work toward a solution to the heating and cooling deficiencies at its intermediate school.
The building, which serves the district’s fourth- through sixth-graders, is equipped with an antiquated steam and hot water heating system. It is the only building in the district without air conditioning.
“It’s always either too hot or too cold,” said Superintendent Bernie Hall.
The solution the district is considering is installation of mini-split heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units. A condensing unit outside each classroom collects heat like a heat pump; then a device in the classroom distributes the heat.
The district already has three of the mini-splits in place. They were installed at the start of the school year to meet high priority needs. Two serve the often overheated tech room, and one serves a classroom in which a teacher with health issues needs a controlled environment.
“What is in there is working,” Hall said of the units. “One day when it was zero degrees outside, those rooms were right at 72 degrees.”
Hall had hoped to have the entire building outfitted with the mini-splits by now, but research into making that happen took longer than expected. The hang-up, he said, is the electrical service.
Wellers Technical Services, an engineering firm out of Greenfield, Ohio, is providing consultation to the district on the project. The firm discovered that the building’s electrical system, which dates back to 1956, cannot handle much more load. Also, finding parts for the old system is difficult. The fans on the mini-splits run on electricity.
The need for an electrical service upgrade raises the price of the project. The engineers’ initial estimate for equipping the whole building was $295,000. The electrical upgrade adds another $79,930, bringing the total to roughly $374,930.
The engineers also priced out the cost to add HVAC to the gym in the form of two 15-ton heat pumps; that estimate is $76,500. All totaled, the estimated cost to completely outfit the intermediate building with heating and cooling is $451,430.
When presenting the numbers to the school board on Dec. 17, Hall said engineers’ estimates tend to be high, and the district can save money by doing some of the work in-house. Even so, he and Treasurer Tim Dettwiller suggested that the project be done in phases so that the district’s permanent improvement (PI) fund doesn’t take a major hit, leaving no cash for emergencies. The PI fund stands at $421,000. The next tax flow into the account comes in February.
At the Dec. 17 meeting, school board member David Hunter urged Hall and Dettwiller to move forward with getting bids on the project.
“One way or another, we’ve got to get it done,” Hunter said of the improvements.
Board member Linda Blankenship said decisions on the project should be left up to the incoming school board, which will have three new members starting in January.
Hunter said he is just interested in getting the bidding process started as soon as possible. Hall said he will send the project out to bid in early January.
Even with bids back in February, Hall said the project can’t start until summer when the building is virtually empty. That’s because the electrical upgrade must come first, and it requires shutting down the building’s power.
“So, we’re aiming for having it all done by next school year,” Hall said.