As Staff and Students Shiver, New Rochelle Middle School Goes into Second Week with No Boilers

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As Staff and Students Shiver, New Rochelle Middle School Goes into Second Week with No Boilers

March 24, 2015 - 15:48
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HVAC unit on rooftop of Albert Leonard Middle School

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The heating woes continue at Albert Leonard Middle School.

Two messages were sent home to Albert Leonard parents on Monday. The first message was to advise parents to dress their children in layers because the two boilers at the school are broken (one for over a year, the other for the past 10 days). The second message was to encourage parents to attend the New Rochelle Board of Education meeting scheduled for tonight at Albert Leonard Middle School.

Last week, school officials were telling parents that the heat was off only in the gymnasium and auditorium. While the rest of the school might be anywhere from lukewarm to frigid you can bet that the auditorium where the school board will meet tonight with be warm and toasty. There was a fundraiser held in the cafeteria last week. While the rest of the school had little or no heat the cafeteria was well above the legal minimum of 65 degrees.

While there has been some improvement with some classrooms now getting some forced air heat from the rooftop HVAC units, there was still plenty of classrooms getting no heat at all. The security guard post in the lobby is warmed by a space heater under the front desk (space heaters are legal in public schools so long as they are plugged directly into a wall).

The email message to parents about heating has several flaws:

Please be advised there are certain areas of the ALMS school building where the heat is not working to its full potential. We learned last week that our second boiler broke and have been waiting to hear about a timeline for both of the boilers to be fixed. Although the boilers are not working, we do have rooftop heating units which are providing heat to our classrooms. We are working with our Building & Grounds department to ensure the gas pressure from the rooftop units is properly reaching all classrooms and office spaces.

If classrooms are deemed uncomfortable, we will be ready to relocate students and staff to a room that ensures people are comfortable and able to focus on teaching and learning. Please send your child to school dressed in layers or with a warm sweater or sweatshirt.

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow evening at our Board of Education meeting, being hosted by ALMS at 7:00 in the auditorium.

John Barnes - Principal 

While the email says it is from the Principal, the robocall was the voice of a woman, not Mr. Barnes. Why?

The message says “there are certain areas of the ALMS school building where the heat is not working to its full potential”.

This statement makes no sense. It is not a matter of “heat” working to any particular potential. There are two boilers which are there to be the primary source of heat for the classrooms. Both are broken. They are not only not “not working” to their “full potential” they are not working at all — and there is no effort underway to repair them. It is not a matter of “potential”. What’s left are 90 rooftop HVAC units. Their primary purpose is to provide forced air cooling and heating into common areas like hallways, the cafeteria, auditorium and gymnasium. Some also reach classrooms via a duct system. They are used to cool air during warmer months from June to September. There have been complaints every summer about lack of cool air in the building suggesting that many of those rooftop units have been broken for years. Some of them were repaired last Friday after Talk of the Sound arranged for the New York State Education Department Director of Buildings & Grounds to visit the school (he was in town to visit Trinity Elementary School after he received complaints from parents there, a point to consider for parents who wonder if agitating outside the district can get results).

The message says “We learned last week that our second boiler broke”.

Not said is that the first boiler broke on March 16, 2014 so school officials have known for over a year that the school was limping along with one boiler and there has been NO PLANS to fix the first boiler. In fact, I am told it was dissembled a year ago and parts are still laying around.

The message says “waiting to hear about a timeline for both of the boilers to be fixed”.

The school has been waiting to hear about a timeline for one boiler for a year and has still not been provided a timeline for that boiler so how are things different now that there are no working boilers?

The message says “we do have rooftop heating units which are providing heat to our classrooms”.

This statement is simply false. Room 221 does not have heat at all. The wood shop and tech classrooms have no heat at hall. Some classes were moved to the library because their classrooms had no heat. A more accurate statement would be that “SOME rooftop heating units are providing SOME heat to SOME classrooms”. The situation is not materially different than it was last week — no peripheral heat from the boilers and some heat to some rooms from the HVAC units.

The message says “We are working with our Building & Grounds department”.

The boilers cannot be fixed by anyone working for Building & Grounds because they have no one qualified to do that work. The Building & Grounds department has one person who is qualified to fix the HVAC units on the roof, there are 90 units and many of them are broken. Westrock was brought in on Friday to fix the HVAC units. This raises a host of questions including why were these HVAC units left in disrepair for so long? Why was the HVAC person working for B&G not maintaining the rooftop units at Albert Leonard Middle School? What other rooftop units were not being maintained at other schools? If the HVAC person was not maintaining these units then what has he been doing over the past several years?

The message says “to ensure the gas pressure from the rooftop units is properly reaching all classrooms and office spaces”.

This is not happening.

The message says “If classrooms are deemed uncomfortable.”

This is not the standard for whether an occupiable work space is heated properly. The law is that occupiable work spaces like classrooms must be heated to 65 degrees not whether some school official “deems” a room to be “uncomfortable”. The whole point of the law is to have an OBJECTIVE standard as to when a room is too cold.a

The message ends “Please send your child to school dressed in layers or with a warm sweater or sweatshirt”.

This statement actually tells you what you need to know — that despite the happy talk from school officials, the building still experiencing the same heating problems with overnight temperatures well below freezing.

Not answered in any communications from the district are several rather obvious questions:

  • Of the 90 rooftop units, how many of those 90 units are currently functioning at 100% and forcing hot air into the building?
  • How many of the 90 rooftop HVAC units are not working at all? How many are working for cold air but not hot air?
  • When will all 90 rooftop HVAC units and both boilers be fully operational?
  • Which classrooms are not getting forced air heat?
  • Which common areas are not getting forced air heat?
  • Has the boiler manufacturer come to the school, inspected the boilers and determined whether to repair/replace?
  • Is any work to repair or replace boilers expected during the remainder of the heating season which runs until May 15th?

Carl Thurnau, NYSED Director of Facilities, advised that the problems at ALMS continue, believes there are no easy answers.

"The only solution I have is to require the closure of school because the building is not being maintained at 65 degrees for occupied work spaces as required by the code," said Thurnau. "However, I do not believe that is an appropriate solution this late in the heating season for several reasons."

He went on to enumerate his reasons for leaving the school open despite the cold:

  • Existing boilers will not be immediately fixed and brought on line.
  • Closing the school would necessitate the relocation of the entire school for the remainder of the year (the district would most likely finish out the year in an alternate space and not return until September).
  • New Rochelle does not have sufficient space to relocate an entire middle school.
  • A truck mounted boiler system is a very costly rental and would like be unnecessary once it is hooked up.
  • The school is relocating particular classrooms and offices as necessary.

 "I believe it is best not to disrupt the entire school by relocation just prior to end of the instructional year," said Thurnau. "If there is a forced relocation, it is entirely feasible that ALMS students will miss some school and be required to attend classes farther into the summer than other district buildings in order to achieve 180 says of required state instruction."

Thurnau intends to stay on top of the sitaution and is confident that funds will be available to repair or replace over the summer as necessary.

"I have made it clear to them that all necessary fixes will be in place for September," said Thurnau. "I have spoken with the business official about a line item in the budget to pay for it."


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Robert Cox's picture

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It is hard to argue with Thurnau's logic although we have suggested installing space heaters in the coldest rooms.

I will continue to report this story beacuse it provides a microcosm for what is wrong with the New Rochelle school system. For years, Assistant Superintendent for Business & Administration John Quinn assured the board and the public that he was on top of these issues. For years, John Gallagher of Armark was responsible for the physical plant at our schools and spent more time cooking up deals with his favored vendors than attending to the actual needs of the school. When so much has been stolen and otherwise misspent, that mone has to come from somewhere. It comes, often, out of neglecting to maintain and repair infrastructure. When those chickens come to roost (the second boiler fails leaving ALMS with no boilers at all during one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory), the district tries to cover it up, lies about it, misrepresents the sitaution and, once caught red-handed, obfuscate and delay all while attacking anyone who might tell the truth about the lack of heat.

The sitaution at Albert Leonard Middle School is not "bad luck" but the result of lack of financial controls, criminally poor facilities management by Armark as well as fraud and theft. Kids are cold at Albert Leonard Middle School because Mauro Zonzini wanted a new motorcycle or because George Wood wanted a new car or because John Gallagher had to pay his son's college tuition And to this that various liars, crooks and thieves that have been looting the district for years and gotten away with it courtesy of school board members who were either a party to the corruption or asleep at the switch.

Boilers don't remain broken for a year because people are doing their jobs.


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Where are the priorities in the Board of Education budget and how do they address real problems?  Peggy