Last week, I shared information about construction issues within the district.  For the first time in a long time, we have no “major” projects on tap for this summer’s work.  We do have a summer filled with smaller projects and capital improvements. 


As I shared last week, we do have at least one more major project to attack as a district.  Our current plans have that work set for the summer of 2014.  The project involves the replacement of the heating system at the Cold Spring Elementary site.  I would like to spend a little bit of time, even though the project is a year away, to highlight the work that will be done.




We have some carpeting being replaced at Cold Spring Elementary School and part of the flooring at CSE changed over from carpet to polished concrete flooring.  The John Clark Elementary site in Rockville has a tile replacement project affecting the lunchroom and two main bathrooms.  At Richmond Elementary, three classrooms have carpet being replaced.  We are seal-coating parts of our parking lots to enhance their life expectancy.  There are a number of other smaller capital projects scheduled as well.


These projects, of course, are conducted in the summer as part of our preparations for the upcoming, 2013-14 school year.  Work like this is very difficult to complete during the school year when students across the district occupy our classrooms and has to be scheduled during summer opportunities.




Cold Spring Elementary School opened in 1991 as a new building in the district.  The heating and ventilation system was built on a series of heat pumps.  The heat pumps provided for both the heating and cooling system. In order to cover the building, a total of 76 heat pumps were installed in the system. 


Unlike central heating systems, the life expectancy of each heat pump is much shorter.  Each heat pump, from the time of installation, had a life expectancy of about 20 years.  The difficulty is that we are at a critical juncture where we expect to be replacing a large number of pumps—with pumps that no longer have a twenty year life expectancy, but rather about twelve to fifteen years.


Because we are more than twenty years from the initial heat pumps, the ones that we must use for replacement are not necessarily built the same way as the ones twenty years ago.  The pumps change shape, size, or locations for input or output.  The change of pumps means that as we replace them, we must also retrofit the areas.  All of the changes require time, space, and funding to make the adjustments needed. 


When you begin putting the costs of the individual pumps together, the replacement becomes a pretty significant project!  As a district, is that we could replace every pump in one shot—at about a million dollars—and it would put us in good position for about a decade.  After about a decade, we would be faced with the proposition of replacing the pumps again.



As we were looking at the options, our Facilities and Grounds Committee concluded that there must be a better option than looking at replacing all of our heat pumps in the system every decade or so—and possibly having issues regularly throughout that time.


As a district, we examined a number of options to deal with the issue of heat pump replacement.  The options included continuing with the current process of simply replacing heat pumps as they fail, looking at replacing all of the pumps at one time, or gathering information about changing our system away from heat pumps to another delivery system.


The idea of following the current path was not very appealing to the committee.  It is very unpredictable because we could go a year without any heat pumps failing or we could have numerous pumps fail.  It is unlikely that all of them would fail in a given year, but it is certainly possible that multiple pumps would fail.  That, in fact, has happened in the last few years—we have had five or more pumps fail in a single year.  Depending on the size and the capacity, the cost could range from $15,000 in a year to $100,000 in a year.


I shared last week that we had a consultant offer a proposal to replace all 76 of the heat pumps at one time.  This would bring everything current, would reduce some of the cost because all the work could be done at one time, but was projected to cost about $1 million between pumps and controls.  As we considered the option, the drawback was that it would be an effective solution for 10 to 15 years, but we would eventually be right back in the same position.




The most logical approach was to consider was one that might allow us to get out of the cycle of replacing heat pumps.  Although the heat pumps make use of heated or cooled water, it was still a system that forced air through ducts into the spaces in the building.  The air ducts, while designed for the heat pump system, could be shifted into a different, forced air system.


One proposal that was offered by consultants involved replacing the entire system.  Not only would the heat pumps be removed, but the proposal included replacement of the ductwork and the entire system.  The estimate for this approach was in the neighborhood of $3.5 million.


As we considered this approach, district staff and the facilities committee  members were convinced that most, if not all, of the ductwork should be able to be salvaged through a project.  A different consultant came in and agreed with that assessment.  As they walked through the building and looked at all of the system, the conclusion was that there would be minimal need to replace the ductwork and that the core systems themselves could be changed to get the forced air system to operate.


This consultant had a much different estimate.  With most of the ductwork left alone, the change to rooftop heating and cooling systems came down to a projected cost of about $1.5 million.  To our committee and the school board—although this is still a significant amount and major project—this amount was much better and provided a much better long-term solution.




Once the idea was narrowed down, there were a number of steps to examine to determine if the project was feasible.  First, the consultant needed to develop or design the project so much more detail could be provided to appropriate authorities.


As with any significant school construction project, officials at the Minnesota Department of Education needed to be engaged.  Two particular departments at the state, the office that governs construction and the office dealing with issues of health and safety, were involved.


A new system, beyond addressing the issue of heat pumps, could also be examined in light of new air quality standards.  Although the CSE system moved air well, it did not match the levels of air movement required of new systems.  As the designers looked at the system, they knew it would need to move at least 15 cfm of air. 


With the guidance of officials at the Department of Education, the components of the project were deemed to be appropriate health and safety issues.  In this fashion, the district could move submit a proposal but have the project governed by health and safety funding because it would also improve indoor air quality for the entire site.  Although health and safety funding is a levy applied locally, it is also a funding mechanism that is at a lower overall “cost” for the district and the impact within the district would be about $15-18 per year for the average homeowner.


As the project was designed, the district also needed to submit the project under the “Review and Comment” guidelines.  This step is also required of construction projects to ensure that the project is reviewed and approved by the local school board as well as authorized by the state of Minnesota.  Our proposal is currently being reviewed by the Department of Education in the Review and Comment process.


Assuming the Department of Education approves the project, the specific planning for the system change can begin.  Because of the timing and the work involved, the final design, release of bid documents, securing of bids, and finishing details would occur through the fall and early winter.  The project would then be set to unfold in the summer of 2014.




The proposed plan has received several points of discussion at the committee and the full board level.  The project has been under discussion and review for most of the last year—and consideration to the heat pump “problem” has been given for several years. 


The committee brought forth its recommendation for full board consideration in January.  Further plans were developed after that discussion and the issue was brought back to the full board.  In May, the board authorized the project to be submitted under Review and Comment.  We expect the Department to respond by July.


As the steps involved in the process unfold, we will share additional information.  Assuming everything continues to move forward, the final plans will be developed in late summer and the steps to put the project in motion would occur late fall and early winter so we are ready to proceed as school ends in 2014.