Update, 3:15 p.m. Feb. 10: North Kitsap schools Superintendent Patty Page informed parents via email that maintenance staff believe they have located the source of the odors at Poulsbo Elementary over the past several weeks. An inspection of equipment this morning showed exhaust was leaking out of a heat exchanger on one of the HVAC units on the roof.
Monitoring inside the building today showed no carbon monoxide, indicating the one (undamaged) burner they’ve been using since this morning is free of exhaust leaks. “Running the unit on one burner will provide adequate heat to the space it serves,” Page said.
Air Masters, the company that worked on the units this summer, will be on site Monday to inspect the unit and identify repairs. Monday is the earliest Air Masters can get there, Page said.
Note, this is likely not the end of the school’s HVAC woes, as the aging system gradually degrades. The district’s goal is to replace the sad, old thing, and they’re working on a plan. Read on.
Feb. 9, 7:45 p.m.: A few new developments today (Tuesday) on the issue of odors at Poulsbo Elementary School: a meeting with parents, new equipment to monitor air quality and an “evolving” plan for replacing the aging and cranky HVAC units sooner rather than later.
Superintendent Patty Page and other district officials met with parents at the school this afternoon to answer questions and field comments. The parents’ frustration was evident. Parent Lori Smith said it seems that the district is downplaying complaints of illness. “What’s the next step for the next time Friday happens?” Smith said, referring to reports of odors on Friday that brought the fire department and gas company officials out to check. The school was deemed fit to occupy and school was not cancelled.
“Nobody’s doubting anybody,” Page said in response to Smith. She said teachers have the go-ahead to remove students from a class, and Principal Claudia Alves has authority to evacuate the school without checking with central administrators. Parents are asked to report any odors to Alves or the main office. That’s the protocol, but no one will get in trouble for calling 911 if they are concerned, Page said.
The Kitsap Public Health District has loaned the district a sophisticated and fairly new air quality meter that measures for unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and relative humidity. The device also measures particulate matter, but unlike the other measures, there’s no health standard for that. The device is designed only for use in schools, and is available to the health district through a partnership with the state Department of Health and federal EPA. It will be in place in a classroom until at least Friday, as work to fix immediate problems with the HVAC units on the school’s roof continues. Health officials will analyze data from the device and determine if monitoring should continue beyond Friday in other locations of the school.
Maintenance staff purchased a hand-held gas detecting device, which they have been using since Monday. They also will regularly monitor air quality at the school.
“North Kitsap School District has a plan for investigating the odors. We support their plan and think they are taking the right approach to their investigation at this time,” said Karen Bevers, health district spokeswoman.
Health district officials have received 10 public health concern reports related to the school and “have responded to all those individuals,” Bevers said.
Finally, the district may be closer to replacing the units than earlier thought. Even a few weeks ago, district officials believed that fixing the system would require replacing not only the units but the entire air duct system as well. The projected cost would be on the order of items typically funded by a bond, and yet the district has no immediate plans to run a bond. Within the last few days, however, another potential solution has been suggested by Rashad Green, the district’s heating and air conditioning technician, who has been assigned to bird dog problems at Poulsbo Elementary. Green, relatively new to the district, has extensive knowledge of HVAC systems. He believes there are ways to replace the units without having to tear up the air duct system. District officials will be vetting that possibility with a contractor and checking on the price tag. Regardless of the cost, Page said, if this is a viable option, the district will make it work.
Green said he has two small children and understands the parents’ concern. He pledged vigilance. “I want you guys to feel that your concerns are listened to and that you’re being hear,” Green said. “We want to make sure you’re comfortable and that your kids are safe.”
Page said the problem with the schools HVAC has been ongoing for years. In an earlier renovation of the school, the HVAC system was not replaced. Now the system is so old it’s almost impossible to get parts. Problems date back to at least 2009, according to a local newspaper article, but Page said problems likely had been cropping up before then.