FWCS Forced to Put "Band-Aids" on Heating Problems?

By Maureen Mespell
By Megan Trent

October 6, 2011 Updated Oct 22, 2013 at 12:12 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – With cold weather around the corner, Fort Wayne Community School leaders are worried about having the necessary funds to fix aging boilers.

Three years ago, Lakeside Middle School replaced its old steam heating system with a new hot water heating system. That included upgrading piping, end terminal units, boilers, and windows.

The new four pipe system allows both heating and cooling within the same day. It has saved the district more than $35,000 in heating costs at Lakeside, but it wasn't cheap. The total cost of the project was $1.9M including the new, energy efficient windows.

Staff at Lakeside still have to change the ignitor every two years, but they no longer have to open the boilers, take out tubes, scrape and clean them, etc. While turning boilers on used to take about a week of work, it now only requires the push of a button on a computer.

Thanks to the decrease in start up time, it now takes district employees less than two weeks to fire up boilers in all 51 schools, as opposed to three weeks in the past. Currently, about half the boilers in the district have been fired up.

The new system at Lakeside includes electronic temperature controls, fail safes, and sensors that will automatically adjust the heat of the water needed to achieve an optimum classroom temperature.

In the past five years, three systems have been completely replaced, including the one at Lakeside. 95 boilers have also been installed. Only Ward Education Center and Harrison Hill Elementary still rely on steam for heat. However, many schools still rely on old two pipe systems.

Officials say only 37% of schools are fully air conditioned. In addition, 27 of the 51 FWCS schools have heating systems that are over their 35 year average life expectancy.

That's a huge problem, because Capital Project funds are decreasing every year. Now, the only way to replace failing boilers and busted pipes is through bonds. Officials say there may be enough money in the Capital Projects Fund to replace a boiler or two, but doing a complete overhaul of the system isn't an option anymore.

Instead, officials say they're forced to put so-called "band-aids" on the leaking or busted pipes. Eventually, the old boilers are going to go out, and officials say it's only a matter of time before "band-aids" won't fix the problem.

So far, officials say they've been lucky. They haven't had to close schools due to a lack of heat. They've been able to patch the problems quickly. When the day does come, however, when band-aids won't be sufficient, fixing the problem will cost more than is available through the district's Capital Projects Fund.

A referendum voted down by community members around four years ago would have provided air conditioning and upgrades in most of the district's facilities.

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