School to retool its water system

Linton Springs' plans to be redone, including missing safety features

January 22, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The Frederick company that designed the flawed water-heating system for Linton Springs Elementary School is redrawing the plans to include critical safety features, school officials said yesterday.

The absence of back-flow devices, which prevent hot water from entering the cold-water system used for washing hands, kitchen operations and bathroom plumbing, was a key factor in the state-ordered shutdown of the Eldersburg school's water-heating system last week.

School officials have said the system was installed according to the plans prepared by RHL Engineering.

"What we've told them [RHL] is you are now going to redesign all the changes for us that we need to make, and, of course, at no charge to us," said Kathleen Sanner, director of support services for Carroll schools.

"I think that even though RHL works for an architect, they're responsible as the mechanical/electrical engineer on the job and are to provide a project that meets all local, state and federal codes," Sanner said. "That's clearly stated in their contract."

But Sanner said she's not prepared to blame RHL for the flawed system at Linton Springs. Maryland adopted regulations requiring the back-flow devices in 1993, but confusion exists among state and county agencies over who is responsible for enforcing the regulations.

"I'm not going to assign blame yet," she said. "We've heard from other design consultants that this code was not considered the best practice or industry standard, therefore people were not designing to that code."

Richard H. Lawson, president of RHL, declined to comment on the 1993 code. "They asked us to come up with a solution to the problem," he said.

School officials are reviewing all work involved in the design and construction of Linton Springs Elementary School to determine who is responsible for the water-heating system problems. Also at issue is why the problems were not detected by state, county or insurance company inspectors before the $8 million school opened in August.

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

System flaws include the installation of the wrong pressure-relief valve and the absence of back-flow devices.

A similar problem at Baltimore's Hazelwood Elementary in 1996 resulted in an accident in which a first-grader was severely burned.

State officials said the accident at Hazelwood, in which a child's flushing a toilet released an eruption of scalding water and steam, led to more vigorous inspections of boilers and water-heating systems.

School system engineers have completed inspections at two of the 11 county schools built or renovated since 1993 -- when codes requiring back-flow devices were adopted. Sanner said they identified code violations at both schools -- Elmer Wolfe Elementary and Francis Scott Key High School -- but none endangered children or warranted a system shutdown, and repairs will be made quickly.

Besides Linton Springs and Cranberry Station, the remaining seven schools to be inspected are: Taneytown, Runnymede, Mechanicsville and Winfield elementary schools, New Windsor Middle School and the newly named Shiloh Middle School, under construction in Hampstead.

Inspectors from the state fire marshal's office and the school system's insurance carrier will check the schools' water-heating systems, as will state inspectors.

"We're going to have three sets of eyes looking at these buildings," Sanner said.

Officials with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation discovered inadequacies in the Linton Springs school's hot-water system last week.

School officials immediately installed temporary commercial water heaters. The system had been approved by the same department's inspection unit in September, before the school opened.

State and county officials are trying to determine which agency is responsible for detecting problems with school water-heating systems.

According to officials at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, state inspectors are required to check the pressure-relief valve, but county building inspectors must check back-flow devices when they examine the plumbing system.

Ralph E. Green, bureau chief of permits and inspections for Carroll County, said Tuesday that county officials are examining the local plumbing code to determine local responsibility with respect to back-flow devices. He did not return phone calls yesterday.

State officials said that during the past six months the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has been routinely inspecting back-flow devices in public buildings.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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