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Ringgold: AC units not holding stagnant water

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 12:06 a.m.

Maintenance workers found no sitting water inside air conditioning units Friday at Ringgold Elementary South in Carroll Township, according to the district superintendent and several school board members.

The non-existence of water, they said, hopefully will eradicate any lingering health concerns about the building.

Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla confirmed that Bill Hoffman, the district's supervisor of facilities, and Scott Spahr, supervisor of maintenance and grounds, checked the units in seven rooms: 103, 232, 304, 311, 312, 315, and 316.

That action was spurred during Thursday's school board meeting, when members Chuck Smith and Larry Mauro demanded the units be tested for bacteria that could spawn Legionnaires' disease if water had accumulated in the draining pans.

The board voted Thursday to conduct such tests if water was found in the units.

“Two units had a little bit of moisture on the drain side, but we expected that because of the normal condensation that occurs during operation,” Polkabla said. “There wasn't standing water as they thought there might be.”

The district had already conducted testing for mold and spores after teachers in the building filed a grievance citing health concerns. The testing, performed Sept. 13 by an outside company, found the spore counts to be much heavier outside the building than indoors, Hoffman said.

Polkabla said Smith was unable to meet Spahr at the building during Friday's inspection.

During Thursday's meeting, Smith had asked Spahr and Hoffman take him to check the units for water afterward.

Smith and Mauro did not return phone messages left early Sunday evening.

Board member Chris Carroll, who chairs the facilities, planning and transportation committee – while acknowledging high humidity in the building this year – said he hopes the results quash any further controversy.

Carroll and Maureen Ott cast opposing votes on Smith's motion Thursday.

Carroll reiterated Sunday that the idea of having water collect in pans he said stand 38 of an inch high was “absolutely ridiculous.”

“The pan is not deep enough to have standing water … and that's exactly what they found. They were all draining properly and, if they weren't, the water would be overflowing, not sitting,” Carroll said.

“That's why I voted no, we've had our own people telling us there's nothing there and there was nothing there. Why can't somebody believe the facts? … If you have sitting water, the pans would have to be 2 to 3 inches high.”

Carroll repeated his accusation from Thursday's meeting claiming Smith was “grandstanding”.

“Water can get stagnant and bacteria can grow, that is correct. But the whole component, unless you see the operation which I've seen up and down, you're not going to find that in these types of units,” said Carroll, who works as a HVAC mechanical designing engineer.

“I'm just glad we didn't have to spend any of the district's money to test for something that wasn't there, and this was not going to cost (only) a couple hundred bucks.”

Two of the units did flood over in summer of 2012 because the collection pans were level instead of tilted, Carroll said, and those units subsequently were fixed.

Fellow board and committee member, Bill Stein, called the bacteria concerns “a lot of fuss about nothing.”

“They found everything to be in proper order. Also, the mold counts were well within reason, so there's really not much else to say,” Stein said.

“We tried to respond to people's concerns. They're tweaking the system one way or another to make it comfortable for teachers and students and we want to do so, but it was never a condition for danger.”

Carroll said eliminating high humidity in RESS is a simple matter of adjusting controls and training maintenance workers to prepare the units when weather conditions necessitate the action.

“This was caused by a small controls issue within the units which will be fixed to deal with more humid days and making sure it operates on the correct schedule,” Carroll said.

“At night time all it was doing was ventilating and not cooling it off and cooling is what dries air.”

Carroll added he hopes there will be no more talk of Legionnaires' disease – a potentially fatal pneumonia caused most commonly by aerobic bacteria that thrive in stagnant water.

“The whole thing was absurd … there would've been so many tell-tale signs to have occurred to even think you'd have something like that,” Carroll said.

“There were no tell-tale signs, but I'm glad they found no standing water.

“Now, we can hopefully continue to monitor the situation and move on.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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