Series of mistakes cited in Deer Park's air crisis Equipment improper, complicated to use, county report says

April 17, 1996|By Marego Athans and Lisa Respers | Marego Athans and Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Children at Deer Park Elementary School were attending classes in rooms that did not meet air quality standards, because school officials installed improper equipment that maintenance workers did not know how to operate, says a county study released yesterday.

The five-day study, commissioned in the wake of an air quality crisis suspected of making students and teachers ill, chronicles a litany of mistakes made by facilities officials in the choice and operation of Deer Park's heating and ventilation system. That system was installed just 18 months ago in a renovation that cost more than $1.5 million.

Heat pumps lacked the strength to provide outside air to the classroom, creating unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide and stale air, which can cause headaches, tearing and discomfort, said Jack C. Dale, whose firm conducted the study.

"The classrooms we tested were grossly inadequate and we have every reason to believe that all of the classrooms are grossly inadequate," said Mr. Dale, president of Jack Dale Associates Inc. in Baltimore County.

"We couldn't find any way that outside air could get into the classrooms."

The district also installed an unusual and complicated computer network to control the system, which maintenance workers did not know how to oper-

ate. One of the computers has been broken since December.

Engineers conducting the study made a written request for someone who could work the system, but the school district couldn't provide one, the study says.

The study recommends that the district overhaul the air system in the classrooms and install a rooftop apparatus to provide Deer Park with outside air.

The study provides further evidence of a bungled renovation in which district officials ignored the advice and warnings of their own hired engineer and in-house experts.

New questions

It also raises new questions about how the district's $100 million-a-year facilities and construction program was run under Executive Director Faith C. Hermann, who was relieved of some of her duties last week.

She retained control of new construction.

Engineers conducting the study could not find any drawings or specifications to determine who is responsible for the problems, NTC and could not find an engineer who signed off on the project.

"I've asked a lot of questions and have received very few answers," Mr. Dale said.

"Where are the specs? Where are the drawings? Who designed it?

"What engineer has put his name on this project? In the 20-plus years I have been conducting audits of buildings, I have never been in a situation where there are no drawings."

County officials are examining who decided to buy the undersized units for the school. Representatives of the manufacturer, Airedale North America Inc., yesterday told county officials that they did not choose the size of the units.

Neither Ms. Hermann nor maintenance manager Dennis Beran returned calls seeking comment.

Marchione not commenting

Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, through the district's spokesman, has repeatedly declined to comment on the Deer Park situation until an internal review is completed.

Among other problems documented in the $25,000 study, which was a joint venture with M. J. Mechanical Contractors:

During the 1993-1994 renovation, district officials lined the ductwork with glass fiber, presumably to reduce noise, which violated specific instructions by an outside engineer designing the new system. Glass fiber ductwork can be a breeding ground for microbial growth, the study says, though preliminary tests have detected no such growth.

The system is run by a complex computer network that includes a computer in the school, a hand-held trouble-shooting computer and a back-up computer in the facilities office that has been broken since December. Mr. Dale called the system unusual and maintenance-intensive, and said the three do not appear to be well-integrated.

"They couldn't operate any of them well," Mr. Dale said. "They couldn't control the temperatures."

Because classrooms had no access to controls, teachers had to request a maintenance worker to change room temperature or air flow, which often meant filling out written requests.

Maintenance workers have not been trained to repair or maintain the system. As a result, engineers discovered that many heating units had been malfunctioning for months.

Correspondence shows that Deer Park's principal reported problems repeatedly since the school reopened in September 1994.

The study raises questions about why the Airedale system was chosen, especially since the engineer hired to design the system recommended against it.

The engineers plan to conduct additional tests to examine why antifreeze was leaking from the heating system and why fuses were repeatedly blown, among other problems.

The study recommends that the district redesign the classroom units and install a rooftop system to provide fresh air, remove the glass fiber duct liner, train maintenance workers and replace the antifreeze in the system with a less toxic form called propylene glycol, often used in food service equipment.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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