Region 16 facing complex AC project at middle school

PROSPECT — Long River Middle School is the only one of Region 16’s four schools that isn’t fully air conditioned, and it’s likely to stay that way in the short term.

The middle school opened in 1971. An addition was built onto the school in the early 1990s, and as part of that project work was completed to provide air conditioning for some common areas, like the gym, cafeteria and main office.

The majority of the classrooms, however, don’t have air conditioning or the ductwork installed to accept air conditioning. The lack of air conditioning became an issue during a heat wave early this school year that caused officials to dismiss Long River early one day.

Installing air conditioning throughout Long River has been a priority for officials in the region, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect, and the district hired Consulting Engineering Services to come up with options on how to add air conditioning to the school.

The engineering firm has presented six options, with cost estimates ranging from $3 million to around $7 million. The presentation surprised and discouraged school officials.

“It was not as simple as anyone of us imagined,” said Board of Education Chair Robert Hiscox during the board’s March 27 meeting.

All of the options include replacing six air handling units on the roof that are about 20 years old. Where the options vary is how to get the air conditioning into the classrooms, which have cabinet unit ventilators to provide heat. The more labor-intensive and costly options include installing ventilation units in the ceiling of the classrooms. Other, cheaper options call for replacing the cabinet unit ventilators in the classrooms with ones that accept heat and air conditioning.

Director of Facilities Steve Martoni said officials are looking at an option to replace the cabinet unit ventilators with ones that have hot and cold water coils. The units in place provide heat with hot water that runs from through pipes connected to the units.

Martoni said it’s possible the project could be done in parts over time, adding officials haven’t started to delve into the details yet.

“Right now it’s just here’s the options, this is what we can do,” Martoni said.

Officials pointed out that the Long River project is more complex than the one completed last summer for under $1 million to add air conditioning to all of Woodland Regional High School.

Woodland Regional High School, which opened in 2001, was built with the necessary ductwork and equipment to accept air conditioning.

“This is basically starting from scratch,” Martoni said about the project at Long River.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said he doesn’t see the project moving forward this year due to the complexity of it. He added the conversation officials need to have is whether spending millions of dollars for a handful of hot days is of value to the region.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” Hiscox said. “I am a little discouraged that we can’t fully air condition the middle school as we have the other schools, but the reality of the cost to taxpayers and the complexity of the problem is that it is not going to happen in the short term.”

Board member David Rybinski, who chairs the board’s facilities and transportation committee, said the firm’s presentation gives officials a base to start and continue a discussion on how to proceed.

“I think we’re on the right track,” Rybinski said.