New school has faulty system

Inspectors had OK'd hot-water heating at Linton Springs

January 17, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Serious flaws were found in the hot-water heating system last week at the newly opened Linton Springs Elementary School in Eldersburg, school officials said.

An interim hot-water system has been installed, and school officials said there is no danger to students.

Despite the safety violations, the flawed system had passed state inspection before the opening of the $8 million school in August, school officials said. A similar problem at a Baltimore elementary school in 1996 resulted in an accident that severely burned a first-grader.

Carroll school system plumbers worked for three days to install new commercial water heaters for hand-washing and food preparation, said Kathleen Sanner, director of support services for Carroll schools.

The water temperature wasn't high enough for kitchen operations, so lunches were prepared last week at South Carroll High School. Sanner said the Linton Springs User.Event 7 was not expected here! cafeteria should be ready to use tomorrow.

School officials are meeting with county plumbing inspectors and design consultants to determine how the water heat ing and plumbing systems' safety violations occurred.

State inspectors found two potential safety problems, she said. It appeared the wrong pressure relief valve had been installed on the hot-water heating system and could lead to an explosion of the heating unit.

Inspectors also discovered that some back-flow devices were missing in the building. They prevent pressure from the hot-water distribution system from pushing hot water into the cold-water faucets and toilet units in the school.

The prepackaged hot-water system at Linton Springs was the first used by the school system, Sanner said.

In a worst-case scenario, in which all backup systems failed, the violations found at Linton Springs could cause an explosion of the hot-water heating unit or the release of hot water into the cold-water piping system.

Such an incident occurred at Hazelwood Elementary School in Baltimore in 1996. First-grader Ashley Moore was severely burned when scalding water and steam were released from the toilet that she flushed. The incident resulted in a $6.5 million lawsuit against school officials and the boiler-inspection company. The suit has been settled out of court.

Sanner said the likelihood of such occurrences are "extraordinarily remote," and that the interim measures put in place at Linton Springs have ensured students' safety.

"Whatever issues directly related to the safety of children were immediately corrected," Sanner said. "We immediately took off-line the hot-water pressure vessels that were in question and installed new, temporary hot-water heaters."

Officials with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation discovered inadequacies with Linton Springs' internal hot-water system during an inspection last week. The hot-water system had received state approval from the same department inspection unit before the school opened.

Karen Napolitano, director of public information with the department, said it had stepped up its hot-water system and boiler-inspection process in the past six months.

She said inspectors were trained to look for a back flow-prevention device, which stops hot water from pushing into the cold-water system. The efforts were in response to the accident at the Baltimore school.

"Quite frankly, our inspectors were not all up to speed until recently," Napolitano said.

She said recent inspections at Carroll schools are part of the department's annual inspection process. Inspectors will check to ensure back-flow devices are in place.

"We're not just singling out Carroll County schools," Napolitano said.

According to Sanner, inspectors with the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation contacted county school officials before Christmas and said they would reinspect county schools built after 1993.

"They felt there was an existing code that had been adopted in 1993 that was not being enforced," Sanner said.

Napolitano said regulations requiring the back flow-prevention device were adopted in 1993.

Problems that require design changes were also uncovered at Cranberry Station Elementary School, which is under construction in Westminster, school officials said.

Sanner said Cranberry Station's scheduled August opening shouldn't be affected by the hot-water system problems.

"It's a good thing it was discovered now," Sanner said. "The state was very apologetic."

Sanner said she doesn't think similar safety issues exist at five other county schools built after 1993. School engineers are inspecting those schools and scheduling state inspections.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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