Resolving boiler-related issues that have affected operations at Strough Middle School may include buying an extra
natural gas booster device, or taking other steps to increase
the gas pressure entering the building.
The choices were discussed by the Board of Education Thursday night in reviewing the situation at the 801 Laurel St. building with school district Director of Facilities Alex Rodriguez, who is evaluating options.
For the short term, a gas booster pump that failed last week and was sent to be refurbished is expected back this weekend and will be installed as soon as
possible, Rodriguez told the board.
The lead time for purchasing a new pump is six weeks, he observed, later noting the district ultimately could buy one so it would “have another unit” on hand in case of another failure.
But an alternative could be to revise systems to accept
higher gas pressure in the
building including such measures as changing regulators, which would all need to be cleared
with National Grid company including safety checks, Rodriguez added.
Repairs and related costs for the existing natural gas booster will be between $2,200 and $2,600, said Rodriguez, who is checking prices for a new booster unit and said it probably would be about $10,000 for one to “have on the shelf” if needed.
Pricing for steps to instead increase the gas pressure entering the building could be “pretty close,” he estimated.
Strough on Nov. 8 was dismissed early at about 11:15 a.m. due to boiler failures; there was partial operation of boilers, but with the booster pump failure there was not enough boiler support to heat the building and cook food, according to district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.
The school was back in regular session this week but Blake said there was not enough natural gas to also use the kitchen equipment, and food would need to be shipped into the building until the booster can be rebuilt.
The building several years ago had operated with two large boilers for which the natural gas supply was sufficient, explained Rodriguez, but the district later changed to using seven smaller boilers which need increased pressure and volume.
Regarding whether the booster pump failure could have been anticipated, Rodriguez said the unit is “sealed” and the only way to know it was failing is “when it failed.”
When asked whether the pump had been included as part of a recent major renovation project at Strough, Rodriguez said the pump has a 1989 stamp on it and was not in the project.
Strough underwent a $25.4 million renovation that had vacated the building during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. Rodriguez became director of facilities III effective in July 2018.
Board member Joseph Mellace asked Rodriguez what would be the “better option...long run” for the situation. Regarding the gas booster unit, Rodriguez replied “I like eliminating that piece of equipment as long as we do it safely.”
For a potential raising of gas pressure entering the building, if system leaks were found beforehand it would raise costs to get them repaired before increasing the pressure, he pointed out.