Funding Restraints Limit HVAC Work At Schools

NEWARK – With the money
available in the school system budget, only two or three of the 21 rooftop HVAC
units in critical need of replacement at three middle schools will be swapped out
for new models this year.

Berlin Intermediate
School, Snow Hill Middle School and Pocomoke Middle School are all 40 years
old. Each of the three school buildings has some HVAC units up to 30 years old,
school board staff reported to the Worcester County Board of Education Tuesday

A total of 76 HVAC units
need to be replaced at the three schools, according to a memorandum written by
H. Stephen Price, Supervisor of Maintenance at Worcester County schools.

“It has become more and
more of a challenge for us to maintain those units,” said Price at Tuesday’s

“Maintenance of our air
quality system is a continuous effort by our maintenance department,” said Ed
Barber, assistant superintendent for administration.

The school system
employs three HVAC technicians to maintain all 662 HVAC units in the school
system, but staff is stretched thin.

The school board
recommended adding more maintenance staff before the recession, said Barber.

The school system will
not add new positions any time soon due to the tight economic picture, but the
need to add maintenance staff has not disappeared.

“That’s still sitting in
the wings,” Barber said.

Maintaining the right
temperatures in the county’s 14 school buildings is not just a matter of
comfort for students and staff, Price said, but a matter of maintaining the
right indoor air quality.

Mold and mildew can grow
if the temperature and humidity levels in the schools are not managed properly,
Price said.

The county school system
has replaced only seven HVAC units since 2005.

Many HVAC units now in
use at the middle schools are old and are in poor condition, Price told the
school board Tuesday.

Depending on bid
pricing, the schools will replace only two or three of the worst heating and
cooling units this year with the limited funding allowed in the maintenance of
effort budget for this school year.

School board staff has
been warning of the need to replace many old HVAC units for the last several

“We’ve got 21 [HVAC
units] we’ve identified in critical need of repair and replacement … we are
facing some critical issues with age and just the ability to get some parts,”
Price said.

“A unit goes out.
Sometimes it might be a week or several weeks to get a part, if we can get a
part,” said Barber. “It frustrates us. It frustrates you.”

Each new HVAC unit costs
between $50,000 and $55,000 with installation another $5,000 per unit.

The school board staff
will look into grants for more energy efficient HVAC units.

“That would be something
to explore,” Price said.

More energy efficient
units would reduce energy costs, which would help pay for the new units, said
Board of Education member Bob Rothermel.

When the economy
recovers, Barber said he hopes the schools can start replacing the HVAC units
at a more rapid pace.

“It’s hard to keep
30-year-old equipment running,” said Board member Doug Dryden.

Board member Sara D.
Thompson summed up the majority opinion, saying, “I just wish we could get some