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Trustees split on Pitman heating, air conditioning project
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The difference of $1 million served as a source of contention for the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees Tuesday as they disputed two projects aimed at improving the lack of proper heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls in the B-Building of Pitman High School.

TUSD, along with the assistance of Nexus Engineering and SKW & Associates, determined that the best replacement system for the B-building at Pitman is a water source heat pump system. The proposal includes replacing the chillers with closed-loop fluid coolers, re-piping the roof as necessary, replacing all of the equipment in each classroom, replacing the entire control system and making necessary electrical changes. The system would utilize all of the school’s existing piping and electricity to allow each classroom to operate independently. The cost of this project is estimated at $1.5 million, an amount that was shared with over 20 community groups prior to the passing of both Measure N and O bond measures in November.

A secondary option, however, includes making some changes to the roof piping of the B-building to allow the system to work properly and switch from heat to cool automatically. Under this proposal, the school would retain all the existing equipment — both on the roof and in each classroom — and replace the entire control system. This proposal, which would cost an estimated $500,000, would allow the system to operate as originally intended to allow the north and south side of the buildings to either cool or heat; however, there would be no possibility for room-to-room adjustment.

“I’ve been on the Board a long, long time and I never realized how much of a problem that building was from the inception,” said Trustee Frank Lima, who voiced his support for the $500,000 option. “I apologize to the parents, the students and the teachers, but I’m peasant stock and I’m not willing to agree with an extra million so that one person in that one classroom is comfortable.

“I will do everything I can to save the public’s funds. I am much more satisfied with that option personally where I can say I did everything I could for us to save money and unfortunately we ended up spending an extra $500,000, but the possibility of saving a million and it working is to me a lot more important,” continued Lima.

Lima’s standpoint was challenged by some of his fellow Board members, one of which was trustee Ken Malech.

“Frank, with all due respect, I’m willing to spend an extra million dollars to upgrade to a more modern unit because I am deathly afraid that if we go ahead and do what you’re suggesting, one or two years down the road we’re going to be regretting it,” said Malech. “I think the public would want us to upgrade Pitman to independently controlled environments for each classroom.”

Board Chair Barney Gordon also voiced his support for the $1.5 million option to allow independent controls similar to what TUSD has district-wide.

“It’s a tough decision — it really is,” said Gordon. “I want to make sure we’re looking at what we ultimately want and how to get there and for me ultimately I would like independent controls in the classroom.”

Director of Operations and Maintenance Scott Richardson said that Pitman currently has an “old, really antiquated” computer system that was installed when the high school was initially constructed in 2002; however, he said that it is already at the end of its useful life.

“It is because of this whole system that over the last few years we’ve actually become more heightened with the issues at the school regarding the chiller plant because the computer system has failed on us multiple times,” said Richardson.

Richardson said that the most recent failure occurred just a few weeks ago during Turlock Unified School District’s Festival on the Green, an annual all-day music festival that showcases music students throughout the district.

“We had some computer malfunctions, which caused the gymnasium to not be cool for a good period of the afternoon and it got quite hot in there,” said Richardson.

The roof of the B-building at Pitman currently is equipped with two chillers, which control the north and south side of the building. Richardson said that for the past 15 years since the high school’s inception, the chillers have not been separated to run the north and south side independently — meaning that the entire B-Building was either all-heat or all-cool.

According to Richardson, the B-building also has two boilers, known as the north and south boilers. Under the proposed $1.5 million project, the school would still use these two boilers.

Each classroom at Pitman is equipped with a unit ventilator and thermostat, the latter of which does not have a digital display whatsoever. Richardson said that the thermostat instead encompasses a simple slide mechanism, which is something that has been a source of frustration for teachers over the years.

“They cannot tell what the temperature is in their room. They really can’t even tell for sure if the system is in cooling mode or heating mode,” said Richardson. “All they can do is slide their little slider up and down three degrees in each direction.”

Tuesday’s agenda item was strictly informational with the project slated for completion next summer. The Board is expected to vote on this item during their May 2 meeting. They will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Professional Development Center, 1100 Cahill Avenue.

“We absolutely know that that building needs to be fixed, regardless of what system we use,” said Lima. “I’m sorry as a Board member that it didn’t happen 14 years ago and I’m very happy that it is happening today and I’m hoping we can get that relief as quickly as possible.”