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pcomtois@nashobapub.com

GROTON – After a preliminary review of conditions at the Prescott Elementary School, engineers in the employ of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District have determined that the air quality at the 75 year old building has not improved and have recommended expenditure of up to $210,500 to remedy the situation.

The news came from the district’s director of business and finance Timothy Sheehan during a presentation on the issue made at last week’s meeting of the School Committee.

Sheehan explained to committee members that following testing and review of conditions at the school by Auburn based Johnson & Seaman Engineering, Inc. (JSE), it was the recommendation of engineers that a building wide energy management system be installed, powered exhaust ventilators added to the roof, and a ventilation unit be placed in the art and music rooms.

"It is evident that many of the spaces are not receiving proper levels of outdoor ventilation air," stated the company in its final report. "Proper ventilation air would prevent the build up of not only carbon dioxide which, at these levels are not technically harmful, but also other indoor contaminants which can be problematic to occupants."

But with the worst levels of air quality found in the art and music rooms located in the basement floor of the building, any effort to rectify the problem would need to be concentrated there.

"Of critical importance are the basement cafeteria, art room, and music rooms," stated the report. "These spaces have no active or natural ventilation and should be addressed as soon as possible."

An earlier study of the air quality at the Prescott School conducted last year determined that there were unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide in the building causing headaches and drowsiness among students and faculty as well as increases in general cold symptoms.

At the time, an upgrade of the building’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system was recommended in order to improve air circulation within the school.

An initial attempt to improve the HVAC system by installing a univent actuator designed to take in more fresh air from out of doors failed when the machine’s intake vents did not have enough room to open properly.

To remedy the problem $10,000 was spent for the installation of a dozen more univent units but follow up testing indicated that there were still ventilation problems in the building with little improvement in air quality.

As a result, it was suggested that a number of further steps be taken: that a fan be installed in the building’s third floor, more ventilation to the boiler in the basement be provided, the installation of at least two new opening windows, and the hiring of a consulting engineer to make a thorough study of the ventilation problem, all at an additional cost of $15,000.

Such was where matters stood until Sheehan’s report to the School Committee at its Jan. 31 meeting.

Testing by JSE revealed that among the continuing problems at Prescott was the boiler which failed to heat the building’s ventilation systems that in turn allowed outdoor air into the school; and the building’s aging ventilation system itself.

"Much of the heating and ventilation equipment in the building has exceeded its useful expected service life of 20 years," stated JSE in its report. "The fact that much of it still operates, albeit not as fully intended, is a testament to good maintenance."

In conclusion, the report recommended a number of measures intended to alleviate the air quality and ventilation problems at Prescott, including: outdoor signage indicating that automobiles parked alongside the building be stationed head in with their exhausts away from the windows at a cost of $1,000; the installation of a building wide energy management system at a cost of $60,000 to control the even distribution of heat throughout the school; continuous operation of the boiler when temperatures fall below 60 degrees at a cost of $5,000; installation of powered roof mounted exhaust ventilators at a cost of $65,000; energy recovery ventilation unit for the art/music rooms at a cost of $15,000; a larger capacity ventilation unit for the cafeteria at a cost of $23,000; and the repair or restoration of inactive heating and ventilation units in the gymnasium for a cost of $25,000.

Total cost if all recommendations were approved would come to $210,500.

And even that may not be the end of potential spending.

With concerns regarding the building’s electrical system, inadequate air ducts, possible replacement of the school’s entire heating system, possible conversion from steam heat to forced hot water, and even the possibility of replacing Prescott with a whole new elementary school, the district could be facing calls for more money down the road.

In the meantime, Sheehan said he expected to meet at Prescott with engineers on Feb. 5 to consider other options and report back to the School Committee at its Feb. 15 meeting with more test results and a possible timeline of events should a decision be made to move forward on the recommendations by JSE.