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Pullman gets breath of fresh air

Students might not notice it when they return to Pullman Elementary School this fall, but the air they breathe will be fresh due to a new heating and cooling system under construction this summer.

Teachers, on the first day, will notice their classrooms are quieter.

Pullman is the first elementary school to get a completely new heating and cooling system.

For several years, District 833 officials have known that meeting new state air circulation standards for schools was a challenge they needed to tackle.

To determine the extent of changes needed to comply, the district had consultants do a preliminary study. Engineers concluded some of the district's existing systems could be retrofitted with the total cost at $44 million

When another set of architects probed the system further, the results were quite different. Much of the system in need of updates actually needed replacing, ballooning the cost to more than $90 million.

The district can handle half the cost with its alternative facilities levy, but taxpayers in a fall referendum will be asked to pick up the remainder. Installation, staged over 12 to 15 years, will be done on all schools in the district with the exception of Cottage Grove and Liberty Ridge elementaries.

Voters might ask why newer schools opened in 1991 will need new systems. Grey Cloud, Middleton and Red Rock were built with heating systems with an expected life of 15 to 20 years, unlike systems in schools such as Pullman, which has a boiler system that lasted 40 years.

Apparently a decision was made to cut back on the life of the heating systems in the three schools and use the savings to add more square footage, according to Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations. Vogel added no one knows for sure why the decision was made.

When asked why the district did not know the extent of what needed to be done, John Doth, director of facilities, said original architect's drawings were of little help.

"Drawings are made so contractors can bid on the jobs," Doth said. "They don't always reflect what is actually there. The plans might say a heating duct is 12 inches when it is actually 6 inches."

Heating in existing classrooms comes from a wall unit by the windows that runs like baseboard heating in homes.

"They're just worn out," said Roger Martin, Martin-Pevzner Engineering. "Many districts across the state have the same problem.

"There will be significant impacts on students with particulates removed from the air. It makes a better environment for students and teachers."

Cooling will be done by removing humidity from the air.

"Schools with new heating and cooling systems can be used during the summer months," Doth said.

Windows can still be opened, but teachers will find they do not need to open them to bring in fresh air.

He said Pullman was chosen as the first elementary school to get new heating and cooling systems because it is the smallest of the schools built in 1961. That allows construction to be done over the summer. In other schools, such as Park High School, construction will be done over several years.

To get ready for the project, teachers packed up their teaching materials and emptied their desks. Everything in the school, except for the central office, is in trailers in the parking lot.

All ceiling tiles and lighting has been removed.

The old boiler has been taken out, in addition to the heating systems in classrooms. Square holes have been made from one classroom into another for heating ducts.

The old systems were very noisy, according to Doth, with some sound levels as high as 70 decibels. "You need ear protection at 92 decibels," he said. "Some units were noisier than others."

"The buildings are not designed for these new systems," Martin said. With no room between ceilings and the concrete roofs "we had to come up with creative solutions."

With no space in the building, mechanical systems will be moved to the roof and concealed as much as possible.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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