Salem Schools' hvac replacement finally underway

Friday, May 30, 2014
Photo/ Richard Irby Superintendent Ken Rich hopes the aging Salem High School heating and cooling system holds out for another year. Work is finally underway to put new hvac units in the elementary school, but it will probably be the end of next summer before the more challenging project to put new systems in the high school will be completed.

"It's a much bigger job than I realized in the beginning. It's a huge job to talk to these companies and see what's it's going to take," Superintendent Ken Rich told the Salem School Board on Monday, May 19, as he announced work to replace the elementary and high school heating and cooling systems will finally get underway this summer.

There was great excitement in June of 2013, when Rich announced the district had been approved for more than one million dollars in state funds to upgrade the schools' old hvac systems. At that time, Rich said it appeared elementary school equipment could be changed out fairly quickly, since each classroom had its own unit. Contractors would then be able to turn their attention to installing separate units in each classroom of the high school. The work there would be more involved because four or five classrooms now share one large unit, so more duct work and construction will be needed.

As architects and a construction management company took a close look at the projects, they got more complicated. It was decided that a cooling tower needed to be built for each school to make the new units work more efficiently, and, instead of working on the projects during the school year, it would be better to do most work during summer break.

When bids were opened this spring, the estimated price of the jobs was higher than hoped, and the one bid received for the high school project was rejected because it was too high. "I am happy to say that we have received some bids that are more to our liking," Rich said, explaining that three bids had been received when new bids were recently opened for the high school work.

The same three companies have been hired to do the elementary and high school hvac system replacements. Cushman Climate Control, which is based in Evening Shade, will do the hvac work, Harvey Preston Electrical of Fort Smith will do the electrical work and Tate General Contractors of Jonesboro will be in charge of the pump houses.

The total price will be about $3.2 million. A guaranteed maximum price for the elementary school is $1,235,635, which is about $135,000 higher than the state's original estimate.The guaranteed maximum price for the high school is $1,806,218, $506,000 more than the original estimate.

The Arkansas Academic Facilities Partnership Program will pay $1,836,751 of the cost, with the Salem district responsible for $1,372,403.

"Obviously, it is a very expensive job, but we do have the funds available in our building fund. We'll do our best to keep costs down as we go through the project. All in all, it is a good use of our monies to keep our buildings in good shape, but we'll pretty much wipe out our building fund," Rich said.

When asked by board members about the higher cost, Rich explained that some companies did not want to get involved because of the quick timeline to get the jobs done. He added it is apparent that many contractors prefer doing fresh construction instead of renovation projects where demolition and rebuilding is needed. Some companies may have passed on bidding because they are not located in the area and travel costs inflate their estimates.

"Cushman, out of Evening Shade, is a very reputable hvac company. They are close by. It will be very good for us for warranty work or problems that go wrong with the system," Rich said.

With contractors finally in place and school dismissed for the year on May 23, work was to start on Tuesday, May 27, at the elementary school. It now appears that most of the work can be done over the summer, but some rooms will still have to be completed when school is in session. Sometime in September is the expected finish date for the elementary work.

"Once they have completed the elementary job, they will go straight to the high school job, with the goal of completing it next summer," Rich said. "So, basically, next year at the high school, there will be work going on. The bad news is, that is one more year with the system that struggles the most."

Both school hvac systems are about 20 years old, and at the end of their life cycle. That is why the state approved funding for such a big project. New technology will add a big benefit -- the new system must be set up to take in fresh air, as well as heat and cool. The new system will still run well water through miles of pipeline, and is the source that the hvac systems will use to assist with the heating and cooling process. One of the limitations of the old system is, water that travels through the system gets heated up during the process and goes back into the ground at a temperature that is too warm. The two new cooling towers will cool the water down before it goes back into the ground, so when cooling is needed, the system will work more efficiently and do a better job.

When the $1.6 million dollar grant was announced last year, there was supposed to be enough funds to build a badly needed addition to the band classroom. Because of the higher costs of the hvac systems, Rich said the band project may have to be scaled down to add practice rooms, which is the biggest need, instead of doubling the size of the band hall.

Rich said the scope of the band project will depend on bringing the hvac projects in under budget and watching funding so that the district can start adding to the building fund.

"It's a big job. It's a big job," Rich said as to what is ahead in coming months.

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