Waltham Public Schools officials are racing to fix a broken air conditioning unit at before school starts in August.
The unit that powers the main section of Waltham High School suffered a mechanical failure in late May and soon after maitnence workers discovered it was leaking Freon, district Facilities Director Skip Bandini told the Monday, July 16 Waltham School Committee meeting. The Freon remained in the unit, Bandini said. Other units that power the gymnasium and auditorium were not impacted by the issue.
Temporary cooling units and fans are working to keep the building cool, but the it is noticealy hotter upon entering the facility.
Now, the district plans to start the process of hiring a company to design a new air conditioning system as it explores whether the district's insurance company can cover at least part of the cost to replace the system. Officials plan to know at least a rough cost estimate soon after the design firm completes its work, according to Bandini. The district hopes that the insurance company will have a final decision on any reimbursements by the time a cost estiamte is revealed, Bandini said.
School Committee members were concerned that the system would not be replaced by the time the new school year begins on Aug. 29. School committee member Lisa Limonciello said she was concerned that the process to get a new system did not start soon after the problem was first noticed.
“I think if it happened at City Hall, the same would happen, they would want it to get fixed in a timely manner,” Limonciello said.
Bandini said that did not happen at first because the district first tried putting new coolant into the system, which was only meant as a temporary fix. When the new coolant feel victim to the leak, the district requested a waiver from the state Department of Capital Asset Management to bypass state bidding laws which would enable the district to more quickly move through the purchasing process to fix the system, according to Bandini. That waiver, however, only allowed for the temporary fix at first, Bandini said. Now, the district plans to seek another waiver to allow for the quicker, more permanent fix.
School Committee membber Margy Donnelly, as well as Bandini, expressed concern that the district would not complete the design steps prior to the City Council's Aug. 6 meeting during which the Council would need o approve funding for the actual cost of the repair work.
In addition to the potential insurance reimbursements, the district also plans to explore getting rebates for energy saved with the new system, according to Bandini.
Hearing the concern around the issue, Mayor Jeanette McCarthy said, "Bottom line is, if the health and safety of the people in the building gets to a certain point, we have to let them go home ... it needs to be replaced ASAP."