Free-flowing air more important than ever in rural schools with older HVAC systems

Edward J. Naughton
St. John News
Old parts and outdated air conditioning system fails at USD 350 and students got to stay home for a day last week while the unit was fixed.

Josh Meyer, superintendent and elementary principal of USD 350, St. John, has been busy for the usual reasons this school year, but now besides just the usual academics and administration of the district, both he and the USD 350 school building maintenance supervisor are dealing with HVAC problems in the main school building.

The repairs that became essential to getting the air blowing cold again, with the attendant proper ventilation, necessitated closure of the school district's normal operations for a full day on August 25th.

Once everything was done to repair the HVAC plant to usual operations and it checked out safely on the evening of August 25th, the parents were informed that they could comfortably and safely return their children to school at the usual time on August 26th with cooling and ventilation to the building once again restored to full capacity.

Many students visited the Ida Long Goodman library in St. John right next door to the school to do some reading work and check out books, while they were off from their normal school day when the HVAC system was shut down in the main school building for a full day.

Meyer said, "One part of the chiller malfunction was successfully addressed with repair effected and replacement part installed on Wednesday, August 25th." 

The students returned to class the day after interim repairs were completed and the system was checked for safety and for proper functionality by the contracted air conditioning specialists.

Meyer said, "The main school building was constructed in 1939." He said that there have been several building renovations over the years, with the usual maintenance and repairs completed periodically since the building opened in the late 1930s.

School again resumed once again normally on Thursday, August 26th, and everything is going well in the district from all appearances, but of course there is at least one more repair with the attendant part replacement needed because this chiller in question is a dual operating system, according to Meyer.

So at least one more part replacement is needed to close the loop for maximum safe efficiency of operations inherent to the second part of the chiller in the HVAC plant, which repair is scheduled for a to-be-determined date the week of August 30, 2021.

Good maintenance of the plant is critical to the daily function of the school system in St. John, especially when hundreds of students, dozens of teachers and administration personnel, rely heavily on proper cooling and ventilation in their school buildings to help limit risk of exposure in respect to any concern they may have for either airborne contaminants in general, or given the possibility of person-to-person airborne transmissibility of disease in the era of COVID pandemic.

Especially given COVID precautions necessary under the newly instituted federally regulated guidelines that call for school districts to develop their own particular plan of implementation of those guidelines in regards to students, staff, and visitors to their schools, not to mention the nearby library, vigilance against the possibility of infectious outbreaks among all people who use the building carry the day. 

On August 27, 2021, Meyer issued a detailed brief sheet for St. John entitled: USD 350 Covid Protocols & Expectations 2021-22 School Year. The brief sheet is very detailed as to procedures and expectations when it comes to meeting the protocol expectations and procedures.


Meyer also wrote another brief sheet which is entitled: USD 350 Plan for Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services. The sheet discusses many things including masks being optional unless circumstances warrant a change. 

The extremely hot temperatures outside often reaching triple digits of course challenge any aged HVAC system especially given the long school season ahead.

Meyer said, "I am confident that given the existing plant operations in our main school, that the HVAC system we now have in place will function well once all remaining repairs and replacement parts are installed in the chiller system and safety checks conducted."