WALTON – One classroom at Lewis Cass Jr.-Sr. High School sits at a steamy 90 degrees when the outside temperature hovers around the 70-degree mark. Meanwhile, two doors down, students are shivering in their 60-degree room.

And the somewhat antiquated heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is to blame.

The system reads the temperatures from a group of rooms and averages out what the overall climate should be like, explained Jon Silcox, maintenance director. But that average doesn’t always work — some rooms turn into ovens while others become freezers.

That’s because the system, including the air handlers, are approximately 40 years old, he said. Plus, the school is still operating on a pneumatic control system that uses compressed air to receive and send the signals that control HVAC equipment, said Silcox. “It’s less efficient and less accurate at controlling temperature” than an electric control system.

Updating the current equipment is just one of several improvements Dr. Tim Garland, superintendent, is hoping to make happen within the next couple of years. And he wants the community to get a first-hand impression of exactly why he’s seeking a bond for these upgrades as well as those for the football stadium and Lewis Cass Elementary.

In order to show the public exactly what the current situation entails, the school corporation hosted three open house events in Early May.

Visitors were shown the HVAC area, including opportunities to go up on the roof — which also would need to undergo some major work — where the 30-year-old cooling tower sits. The chiller pumps water up and circulates into a radiator, then distributes cool air throughout the building. However, an upgraded model would allow air-to-air exchange like what people use for their own homes, said Silcox.

Plus, he said the new system would allow regulation of individual classrooms, thereby eliminating the need to average temperatures based upon proximity to each other. Further, Silcox would have the option to control settings digitally via an iPad or other device. Right now, he manually switches the controls, requiring him to be on site.

Cost of these improvements is around $4.1 million.

Another $1.1 to $1.4 million would be spent on upgrading the mechanics, specifically the switchgear box that is original to the building, which was constructed in the 1960s. It has gotten so old, Silcox said he has been warned that a time may come when the gear will no longer work.

Then, there’s the air compressor, he said. “It’s pretty much obsolete.” If anything goes wrong with the system, the only option to restore it would be by manual force. “This is a bad system,” he said of the overall components. “It’s definitely not good.”

“And student comfort is extremely important.”

Dr. Garland agreed, explaining the system must produce enough heat or air conditioning for 150,000 square feet, but it’s not operating as it should. “We are long overdue for a new one.”

Last year, the school corporation spent $100,000 in HVAC repairs, said the superintendent. Each year, there’s a 10 percent increase in cost.

Plus, said Silcox, some parts are no longer available. That means if he must repair something, he may have to request a specialized part be built, but that could normally take several days. Depending on the weather, that could force the school to close its doors, so students and faculty don’t have to sit through extreme heat or cold.

Even sitting outside is being considered — the corporation is looking at a $3.5 million stadium renovation project. Bleachers would be redone with a design concept similar to the present one, including the press box, but the rest of the area would be relocated.

Dr. Garland said the plan is to make the bleachers more suitable to guests while possibly moving the restrooms, locker room, and concession area from the west side to the north side of the football field/track.

Granted, he said, the design is still being considered, but “something has to be done.”

The concrete is crumbling, blocks are deteriorating, and the locker room showers are so bad that no one uses them anymore, Dr. Garland said.

“And the lift station is obnoxiously loud,” making it hard for coaching staff to talk amongst themselves and actually hear what’s being said, Silcox added. “Right now, this is a safety issue. We’ve got to do something for our kids.”

That includes even the youngest ones — which is why Lewis Cass Schools is considering another $5 to $5.9 million toward the construction of four new elementary classrooms as well as a new gymnasium on the southside of the elementary. The classrooms would be constructed in the existing cafeteria/gymnasium area.

Overall, said Silcox, the project is geared toward the future needs of the students. “We’re (anticipating) future needs and looking at doing this to set up success in the future.”

That’s why Dr. Garland wants community input for the approximate $15 million work. A lot of effort is being put into this consideration, he said, and now is the time for people to speak up. Hopefully, the open house events gave people a chance to see precisely why this bond is needed, he said, adding that the bond committee continues to meet and discuss options.

If approved, the bid process would start after Jan. 1, 2022.

Reach Kristi Hileman at kristi.hileman@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150

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