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Waynesboro school board to reconsider HVAC project

May 18, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Jim McKelvey was OK with losing his job if it meant new mechanical systems for the Waynesboro Area School District.

McKelvey has been a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician for the district for three years. He'll be leaving his job by June 30 and thought the need for HVAC maintenance would be all but eliminated once new systems were installed this summer.

However, the school board last week voted against proceeding with a contract for the project.

"I think the children deserve better," McKelvey said.

McKelvey, 62, described a half-inch of dust in school ceilings and said he is confident that living organisms are in there. He said he rebuilt 45 of the heat pumps that are found in each classroom.

"They've been Band-Aiding them for 40 years, and they were junk to begin with. ... It's the worst I've ever seen," said McKelvey, who said he's been in the air conditioning field for four decades.

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Summitview Elementary School and Waynesboro Area Middle School are in the worst shape, and Fairview Elementary School isn't much better, he said.

"I could not necessarily speak to what the air quality is," Superintendent James Robertson said Monday night, explaining he doesn't have the technical expertise to make such assessments.

School administrators said they are gathering data for reports about ventilation at the buildings. Robertson said he knows a study completed a few years ago found Fairview's air quality to be within acceptable standards.

"I wouldn't feel bad about putting my own child in the schools," he said.

The school board voted against allowing Board President Ed Wilson to sign a contract with McClure Co. of Harrisburg, Pa., after the district solicitor reviewed and revised it to his approval. Further discussion on the issue is expected Tuesday.

Board member Billie Finn asked McClure to present information at Tuesday meeting about the possibility of completing the project in phases. McClure representatives said they cannot wait any longer for approval if the work is to be done this summer.

Pat Heefner was one of the three Waynesboro board members who wanted to move forward with the McClure contract.

"We have 'sick buildings' in this district. We have a golden opportunity, I feel, to address this in a timely manner," Heefner said through tears after the vote last Thursday.

Business Administrator Caroline Dean has said, if completing the full project, the board would borrow $4.4 million, then pay back that loan with funds that otherwise would have gone to increased electric costs, HVAC equipment and the equipment's upkeep.

McClure told the district it could guarantee savings of $1 million beyond that amount over 15 years.

"Realistically, eight, 10, 12 years down the road, who is going to look at it?" Wilson said of the guarantee.

Wilson said fixing the systems is a priority for the board, but it didn't have the information it needed to make a responsible decision.

"There are other ways of going about this," Wilson said, saying a consultant or engineer could prepare the project to go out for bids in phases.

Contractors are looking for work in the down economy, and it would be nice to hire locally, he said.

"It's going to take a little bit of time, but I think it's being prudent with the taxpayers' money," Wilson said.

Steelton-Highspire School District Business Manager Leigh Beth Zema spoke highly of McClure Co.

"They've always come in on time and always a little under budget or at budget," she said.

Steelton-Highspire, near Harrisburg, started working with McClure on projects about 10 years ago, Zema said. That includes two energy savings contracts, she said.

"They are out of this world," she said when raving about the company's work.

When a roof contractor didn't place a tarp over a hole and it rained onto the gym floor, Zema called a McClure employee who came in on his own time to give advice about what to do.

"They're really good people," Zema said.

McKelvey, whose employment was confirmed by a school district administrator, said he was excited about the prospect of improvements being made this summer, saying the needs should have been addressed years ago. Cleaning or fixing the units is a "major operation," a multi-day project, he said.

"The insulation has filled with dirt, dust and grime for 40 years," McKelvey said.

"I wouldn't let my kids go to the schools. ... If the teachers saw it, they'd probably walk out," he said.

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