As temperatures soared above 100, hundreds of HVAC units stopped working in Nampa schools

Nampa middle school teacher Dave Coles normally likes to dress up when he goes to work.

But this year he had to make an exception. Her classroom’s HVAC unit at West Middle School broke as temperatures in Treasure Valley topped 100 degrees. Despite the multiple fans he installed, the temperature in his classroom exceeded 80 degrees on some days, he said. So Coles wore shorts.

Coles’ experience is shared by many across the district. In the first month of school, more than 200 Nampa School District HVAC units failed, said Cortney Stauffer, the district’s executive director of operations.

The outages forced the district to come up with contingency plans that included installing portable fans and air conditioning units and, in the most extreme cases, moving students to other areas of the building where it was hot. Fresher.

Most units are working again now, but the district is still waiting for the fix for some.

“We kind of had the perfect storm, I believe, where we have aging infrastructure, as well as the hottest summer on record that complicated our whole system,” Stauffer told the Idaho Statesman.

Some units “outside their time expectation”

Some of the schools that struggled the most with broken units were older buildings, Stauffer said. Record-breaking summer temperatures have resulted in heavier use of units, which may have accelerated some of the problems the district has encountered this year.

“These are our most outdated systems that have been challenged and are struggling to keep up with the heat,” Stauffer said.

Some of the systems, he added, are “definitely beyond their time expectation,” and the district plans to upgrade some buildings. Typical life expectancy is around 20-30 years, but the oldest units are almost 50 years old.

An elementary school in the district that was built in 1976 still has its original unit. The district is no longer able to get parts for this particular unit, so they had to order a new one which is expected to take months to arrive. The district was able to repair some of the units that disappeared, but had to replace others.

The outages affected a “very large percentage” of students,” Stauffer said. Some of the units that went out are classroom units and some are multi-classroom units, depending on the building.

The district worked to keep classrooms as comfortable as possible and said it was able to mitigate much of the impact.

HVAC failures due to aging buildings

Schools in Nampa usually have blackouts, Stauffer said, but not to this extent.

“It was just extremely abnormal,” he said.

Normally, the district serves 20 to 30 units a month — but most of them “are not completely out of order” like what the district has seen this year, Stauffer said.

Unit repair and replacement costs exceeded $150,000, but that is expected to increase as the district processes pending bills, Stauffer said. Because so many units failed, the district also brought in third-party services for some of the work. The district has only two HVAC staff on the team.

Stauffer said he didn’t have staff equipped to handle so many units in need of repair.

The breakdowns illustrated a larger problem: the difficulty of maintaining older buildings, he added.

“Now we’re starting to see the challenges of maintaining aging buildings,” Stauffer said. “I think it’s a component of the Nampa School District. … You come to a point where we have to ask ourselves what is the next step? How do we maintain the buildings to the standards that we have and (that) our community expects? »

For Coles, this wasn’t the first time he had trouble with the HVAC system. Last year, he says, he lost heat in his classroom for about a week during the winter.

He said he tried to keep a positive attitude despite the heat and his students did well. Class periods last just under an hour, so students aren’t sitting in a hot classroom all day, he said.

Coles is still waiting for the replacement part to get the unit fixed, but he praised the district maintenance staff for doing everything possible to make it as comfortable as possible.

He said he was grateful for not teaching his students the unit of thermal energy, when, on the last day of the unit, he pulled out some propane burners and let his class make s’mores. It’s perfect for winter, he says.

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