COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Maintenance issues have piled up at the Coeur d’Alene School District, leading to million dollar budget items needed, as reported by KREM 2 News partner the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press.
Of highest importance, several of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units at Coeur d’Alene High School need to be replaced due to old age.
The holdup? The cost to replace the units on the 700 building at CHS alone is around $2 million to $2.5 million.
There are a total of 49 classrooms in the 700 building, serviced by seven units.
The units are almost 30 years old, and their average life span is 25 to 30 years.
Jeff Voeller, director of operations, said the units are basically at the end of their useful cycle.
“When this goes down, it’s over,” Michael Westrup, director of Facilities and Maintenance, said at the last school board meeting in January. “We will not have school in that building.”
Next on the priority list would be replacing the five units on top of the 100 building.
Voeller said they have problems with the HVAC system just shutting itself down. If it shuts down before school starts, it takes time for the unit to warm up for the day so it could be really cold when classes start.
Voeller said they can usually get the system rebooted and kicked on, but they’ve lost the temperature control for part of the day.
“So there’s challenges like that that we face on a daily basis,” Voeller said.
Voeller said they also can’t find parts for the old units.
“(We) would be without heat in that classroom section for a while,” he said.
“The manufacturer’s super impressed that we made them last this long, but we’re in trouble,” Westrup said. “I’m praying that we make it through this year.”
Westrup said they don't have enough heaters to keep the classrooms warm if the units stop running.
Scott Maben, director of communications for the school district, said the issue has been on the radar for a while. It was proposed in the 2017 bond, but as construction costs rose, it was one area that was cut out as the district built a new elementary school and financed several expansions.
Voeller said one of the things they’re looking at now is potentially using some of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, part of the federal COVID relief funding the schools received.
He said he's working with an engineer to figure exact costs to replace all the units.
“As we get further into this year, we know where we’re going to be funding-wise with what the state’s going to fund,” Voeller said. “There’s some changes happening and so we don’t fully know where we’re going to land, how the state’s going to fund just our general operating budget.”
Voeller said he would like to replace the systems on a unit-by-unit basis, so when they go out to bid, they can replace as many units for which funds are available and continue as more funds come in.
That plan would also allow them to salvage parts from the replaced units to fix and rebuild the older units if they go down.
“So it’s kind of limping along, but it is a strategy we can use to at least get some of it accomplished,” Voeller said.
The new units cost approximately $250,000 to $300,000 per unit.
Voeller said that over the long run, they expect to see energy efficiency savings with the newer units.
The new units will also allow for variation of temperature between classrooms instead of having one point of contact for several classrooms.
Maben said this level of building maintenance has never been part of their normal annual operating budget. The only way to pay for that kind of work would be through a bond measure or a school plant facility levy, he said.
The HVAC units are part of a deferred maintenance backlog in the district. Maben said he believes the total backlog cost was over $18 million about a year ago.
“Clearly that’s beyond the reach of any year to year operating budget we have,” Maben said.
While other states help school districts with their capital projects, Maben said that doesn't happen in Idaho.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.