Chewelah School District looking for grants to help upgrade facilities

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

The boiler in the Jenkins Middle School is from the 1930s and the district worries that without replacement parts it could fail at any time. (Brandon Hansen photo)

Middle school boiler, energy efficiency, light fixtures and heating systems a focus for district…

In a room that looks like it could be a set on one of the SAW movies, the venerable Jenkins Middle School boiler rumbles to life, providing expensive heat to a building the district doesn’t use anymore.

This boiler is from the 1930s, has no replacement parts available for order and the fear is it could fail at anytime.

This is part of the reason the Chewelah School District has enlisted the services of McKinstry to do an Investment Grade Audit for the district’s building. Superintendent Rich McFarland and the district are going after two grants to help the current situation of these structures.

One grant for modernization for rural schools through OSPI would be used to upgrade equipment in district structures and be upwards of four million dollars. An energy efficiency grant from the Washington Department of Commerce would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars but require matching pay from the district.

Last week, McKinstry inspectors and independent contractors scoured Jenkins Middle School, Jenkins Junior/Senior High School and Gess Elementary looking at things like the heating system, lighting fixtures and other energy efficiency items.

“The goal is to increase our energy efficiency and decrease energy use by the district for heating and cooling buildings, along with the energy use by their light fixtures and water heaters,” McFarland said.

The elephant in the room, or in the town, is Jenkins Middle School. The old building no longer hosts any classes and people aren’t even allowed back into the structure. It’s outdated, and for the school district to use it again they would have to go through a very expensive renovation process that is above the finances of the district.

However, structures outside of the main school building and the gym are still used by the district for games and alternative education programs.

McFarland’s concern is in the boiler and how the school is heated. Right now the district pays north of $40,000 for heating the structure – more than they did with students inside. McFarland hopes to find a way to close off or minimize how much heating goes to the school building while keeping the gym heated.

This probably includes replacing the old boiler which is so old it could fail beyond repair.

“McKinstry looked at the old boiler and we really need to do something,” McFarland said. “The goal is to isolate the rest of the main building and drain water lines so we don’t risk a monumental failure.”

McFarland said this gives the district some time to decide the future of the middle school while reducing yearly costs.

Light fixures in the gym and locker room areas were also analyzed for energy efficiency and the roof of the locker room was checked for structural integrity as that could be the future site of a heating system for the gym.

“Lighting wise, we have a lot of fixtures in the district, and LEDs will last longer and cost less,” McFarland said.

Along with lighting fixtures, engineers are also looking at the gas and electric heating systems that the district uses. At Jenkins Junior/Senior High School, auditors looked at the school’s heating system which has failed before, causing the loss of school days.

“The high school’s heating system is past its useful life and it’s in a space above the library,” McFarland said. “Trying to get to the system is problematic and the district may have to replace it.”

The Jenkins Junior/Senior High School gym has had an issue of getting too warm, as anyone attending a Cougar basketball game can attest and McFarland said they’re looking into figuring out how they can improve the cooling system.

McFarland said the Gess Elementary building is in better shape than the junior/senior high school and certainly the middle school. Age is still something the district will have to consider as Gess was constructed in the 1980s and the junior /senior high school was constructed in the 1970s.

The final grant applications need to be submitted by November 15.

The superintendent said the two grants are written for rural districts with small tax bases like Chewelah. The recipients of the larger rural schools grant will be announced on November 17 and the energy efficiency grant recipients will be announced at the beginning of the new year.