School District Offices Labeled as “Sick Building”

A 35-year old HVAC system is being blamed for an increase in sickness in the school district’s administrative building.

Chuck Zappala, the building and grounds director, called the work done to install the system as “underfunded” and “value engineering.” It was built in 1982 and has led Zappala to call the offices a “sick building” where personnel are at risk for increased infections.

He said the back then the district was “cutting corners now and paying for [its] mistakes later.”

The problem seems to lie with the current number of staff in the building. When the system was first installed, it had the capacity to filter air for 14 people. However, with the inclusion of the special education personnel and the IT department, that number is now up to 24, causing an overload of the HVAC.

There was “no provision for fresh air in the building” when it was built, according to Zappala.

He had the Lawson Group come in to do some testing in October when the temperature was more stable and there was less pollen in the air. The test concluded that there were very high levels of carbon dioxide being produced and there was also a mold issue. Zappala said the test results showed when people come into the building for work and when windows were opened to air out the offices.

Zappala got personal with the board, telling them about his wife’s own issues from working in the building. She had contracted a respiratory infection that would not go away and was eventually hospitalized for it for over two weeks. Zappala explained that more illnesses can lead to more insurance claims, which then leads to high premiums for everyone.

“Employee health is the big issue,” he said. “If this were a school, we’d probably close it.”

The school district offices are adjacent to the town offices, but they are in two separate parts of the same building and run on different HVAC systems. Superintendent Scott Laliberte looked at what the best options are for the staff. He advised that the best short-term solution would be to lease off-site, especially with the School Board having just agreed to pay $11,500 for a new trailer for the Moose Hill School.

“At this point, leasing space presents us with an option to solve health issues at the district office without incurring the large investment of funds involved with construction, while allowing us to focus our attention on the needs of our expanding elementary school population,” said Laliberte.

He estimated the rental space would have a one-time cost of $175,000 and would be $157,000 annually.

Another alternative would be to get a trailer for modular offices, but that would more expensive at $500,000 for the land and $425 for additional expenses, according to Laliberte.

He also said fixing the current space would cost almost $4 million and building on a new site would run into the seven digits.

Kathy Wagner, the partner of school board member Steve Young, spoke at the meeting, saying, “We made a huge mistake when we built this building.” She felt adding to the current building may be the cheapest option in the long run.

The superintendent recommended the district look into getting more information about leasing space off-site to propose it at the Dec. 5 meeting.

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