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HILLSVILLE — With the heating and air conditioning system removed from the main building at Carroll County High, people want to know, “how cool is school?”
After the first day, staff and students knew the answer: Not very.
The new school year commenced Aug. 13 as planned, with work to replace the HVAC system at the high school moving to the evening and early morning so as to not disturb classes.
CCHS Principal Chuck Thompson said the highest the mercury hit in the classrooms was 87 degrees in the second floor wing.
At the beginning of class Wednesday, the temperatures hovered around 83 degrees.
Educators at Tuesday’s Carroll School Board meeting sounded thankful for the unseasonably cool August that greeted students for their first day back.
The focus of the replacement project right now involves getting the heat on by November, Clerk of the Works Dennis Cole reminded the school board.
“I know we’re all kind of hoping that we get some cooler days here, but we don’t want to push it too hard for those cooler days,” he said. “Because we still need some warm days between now and the first of November.”
A nice, mild fall would be perfect, Cole added.
The temporary air conditioning units installed in the classrooms around the facility put out cool air, Cole reported, but “it’s not going to be frigid in there, by no means.”
The AC units are working as hard as they can to put out the cool air, “but [it’s] also like trying to cool a canvas tent — there’s no insulation, there’s nothing to keep that cool air in the room itself,” he said. “If you’re sitting in front of it, there’s a nice cool breeze that comes out of it.”
School officials hope that leaving the units on at night will cool down the rooms enough to make them tolerable through the school day, the clerk of the works said. The bad thing about that is increasing the electric bill.
Another difficulty is that the five-gallon reservoirs fill up every four or so hours, or the air conditioning units shut off.
“This first week is going to be a test week,” Cole said. “It’s going to be a trying time, to figure out the best use of these units.”
Getting air moving through the corridors also might make a difference, he added. Large 12- or 25-ton AC units can be rented to circulate cooler air.
Cole expected that, if the school system goes that route, the units would need to be placed next to an exterior door so heat from the equipment could be vented outside.
Schools Superintendent Strader Blankenship noted that students from the warmer classrooms could hold their sessions in the cooler media center or in the cafeteria at times.
School Board Chairman Brian Spencer wondered why many of the room units weren’t being vented outside, instead of above the ceiling.
In addition to cool air, the portable units also put out a lot of heat, the chairman noted.
The way the high school was built, not many of the windows can open, Cole said. The idea is for the heat to dissipate over the ceiling, but there’s a lot of heat to pull out of the building.
“I was just concerned because at the house today my outdoor thermometer said 78 degrees,” Spencer said. “78’s cool, especially for this time of year, and it was still 90 inside.”
If this August had warmed up to the average temperatures, Spencer worried that the heat inside the school might approach 97 degrees.
On the other hand, Spencer found the morale among staff and students to be good — they are looking forward to the end result.
To answer concerns about safety with the work going on and the ceilings removed, Blankenship pointed out that health and safety inspectors have looked at the project and signed off on the way the construction is happening.
On Tuesday, workers went to a new 4 p.m. to midnight schedule to avoid working around students. “It will be up to them to work as long as they need to through the night,” Cole said.
Before the crews leave, they will clean up and secure the building, so it will be ready for classes in the morning.
“It doesn’t look nice, but it is safe, according to the inspectors,” the superintendent said.
Blankenship said in July that it was not possible to postpone the start of school for construction. “I keep trying to tell everybody [that the beginning date is set] in concrete,” he explained then.
Cole also made an appearance before the Carroll supervisors Monday, at which he called the HVAC project absolutely necessary.
He showed the supervisors a corroded pipe that came from the high school’s system.
When in place, no one could see the wear and tear on the more than 40-year-old HVAC pipes because they were covered in insulation.
The pipes did have a reputation for springing leaks, but Cole sounded surprised that the breaks weren’t worse given the condition of the equipment.
“It looks like from what you brought us we’ve really been sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said Supervisor Phil McCraw.
Construction crews working on demolition “were pulling pipes down with their hands,” Cole said.
Referring to the possibility of a catastrophic failure, where water could have flooded the school from a pipe break, Supervisors Chairman David Hutchins said “it was an accident waiting to happen.”
“I think it was a well-worth-it endeavor that we needed to have as soon as possible,” Cole agreed.
Workers have been installing the four pipes needed by the new system. Cole said a major focus last month was getting the installation in the cafeteria complete so the space could be cleaned and supplies stocked to feed the students that came back to class this week.
Progress for design on the other two components of improvement to the high school — a science, technology, engineering and math lab and a natural gas pipeline — continues, Cole said in July.
These improvements follow closely on the adding a new entrance, administration area and library; renovating bathrooms; rehabbing science labs; expanding the cafeteria; and adding onto the field house in order to move the ninth grade into the facility.
Cole characterized this new round of improvements as “another inconvenience for a few months.”
School work costs revised
HILLSVILLE — Carroll County’s budget for the additions to the school has been revised up to more than $5.9 million, after the heating and air conditioning system came in about $600,000 higher than expected.
After the HVAC replacement bid nearly reached $4.6 million with the promise of a $5 million loan from the Rural Development community facilities funds, county officials learned they could get more funding from the federal agency to complete the heating and air work, as well as the planned natural gas line extension and the addition of a science and technology lab to the high school.
Officials increased the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab to $202,500, but kept the natural gas line estimate at $200,000.
Adding those figures up, the construction costs total $4,999,500.
County officials have also revised the interest that will be due for the loan to $198,000 and the required 10 percent contingency to $500,000 on the $5 million effort.
That increased the total budget for these three items to $5.9 million.