Bringing On The Heat
Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2014
CUMBERLAND — Parents and school officials are bringing on the heat when it comes to the Cumberland Elementary School heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. And the Cumberland Board of Supervisors seems to be listening. During a meeting last week, the board directed Cumberland Maintenance Director Stuart Harris to pursue more detailed engineering plans and price quotes so that the replacement project could potentially be completed this summer.
Despite concerns of a million-dollar gap in this year’s budget, not including the estimated $1.1 million needed to replace the HVAC system, supervisors seem ready to move forward, exploring a fix for the elementary schools heating and cooling problems.
Supervisor David Meinhard, who is the boards’ liaison to the commission, referenced the expected million-dollar gap, caused by an estimated decrease in tax revenue and increased jail expenses. “We have cut just about everything out of the budget that we can cut out,” he said during the planning commission meeting Tuesday night, “Probably our citizens need to start preparing and thinking about a potential tax-rate increase just to keep us where we are.”
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For several weeks, first-grade and kindergarten classrooms were without air conditioning during the fall. Without windows that can be opened, administration resorted to industrial fans to circulate cooler air into needed areas.
Last week, classrooms were again too hot; reaching temperatures of 90 degrees, this time because of a boiler that was running non-stop, according to school officials. (For more information on the aging HVAC system and its impact on the school, read “Is It Too Hot To Learn At Cumberland Elementary?” in the February 19 edition of The Herald or at www.farmvilleherald.com.)
During what was at times a tense Cumberland Planning Commission public hearing of the CIP plan Monday night, February 24, school officials, one parent of an elementary school student and one grandparent spoke passionately about the need for an updated HVAC system.
“Children are our future,” Carol Allen, the grandmother of two elementary students told the commission. She was in the school when it was hot, she said, and was very disappointed. She thanked the administration for working to cool down the building and urged the commission to make the HVAC system a number one priority.
Heather Taylor, a Cartersville mother of a first grader, also spoke to the board, telling them that her daughter was one of many students who came home with headaches and stomach aches last week. “My big question to you is when the whole thing craps out and everybody takes their kids out, then what are we going to do?” she asked.
School administration told the commission that to cool down the school from the overzealous boiler, they had to use fans and open all the doors in the building, stationing personnel at each building entrance to still maintain security for students.
While Commissioner Hubert Allen, District Four, felt the school should take more responsibility for their capital requests; he, along with the remaining six commissioners, voted to recommend the plan to the Cumberland Board of Supervisors for approval and funding, with the HVAC system listed as a top priority.
Supervisors Move Forward
The board discussed the HVAC system during a budget work session and meeting with Harris on Wednesday night, February 19. In the upcoming months, board members will decide whether to approve the commissions CIP plan and fund the project.
Supervisors mentioned the growing concern in the community regarding the system. Referencing last week’s article in The Herald, Harris pointed out that the trouble with the HVAC system at the beginning of the school year was because of an air conditioner coil.
So far, two coils in the system have had to be replaced. “We’ve got five more up there that are exactly like that and I just hope next year we don’t lose three of them,” he said.
The HVAC system replacement couldn’t be done while school was in session, according to Harris, and the County must begin working on estimates and quotes now if the board wants to replace the system this summer.
Chairman Lloyd Banks directed Harris to take the next steps needed to move forward with the system’s replacement, including contacting an engineering company to draw up system specifications and narrow down a more exact price estimate.
The board also asked Harris to explore alternative systems for the school. Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, suggested the County look into systems based on geothermal and/or solar energy. Perhaps grant monies would be available for taking a rural school and bringing it into a modern energy system capability, he proposed. With grant monies, the technology upgrade could lead to a cost savings for the County over all, Osl added.
“I don’t see where there is anyway we can wait for a shutdown of the system…. I think its time to start off fresh with one,” Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three, stated when Banks asked the board for their thoughts on how the County should move forward. Ingle also agreed with Osl, suggesting the County explore other technology options.
Supervisors Parker Wheeler, District Five, and Meinhard both also voiced their support. “It’s a situation we’ve got to do something about,” said Meinhard.
A public hearing before the board of supervisors on the County’s budget, County tax rate, CIP plan and CIP funding is planned for April 1.