A Project for Better Journalism chapter

It’s freezing/boiling in here

On a recent Thursday morning in the South building Instructor Ann Kirkendall heard a rumble in the ceiling . “Yes,” Kirkendall thought. “The heat is finally on.” Sadly, to her dismay, she realized the air coming out of the vents was, in fact, cold. Very cold. This example of wonky temperatures in her classroom is not unique. These problems exist in classrooms all over the building.

  The temperature in South classrooms has been a topic of discussion for many students recently. Classrooms feel frigid with temperatures as low as 59℉, while other classrooms have sweltering temperatures up to 80°. The difference in temperatures is extreme, especially because of the randomness between classrooms.

  Instructors Dan Dennis and Cherylyn Weyhmiller have been collecting temperature data in classrooms around the South. They placed thermometers in classrooms for six days to gather data on each room. For example Instructor Laurel Soto’s classroom averaged around 65°. While the lowest reported temperature in this room was as low as 59° on the morning of Dec. 11. Another cold classroom was Instructor Ken Strobel’s which averaged at about 67°. There are also several other rooms in South that suffer from these extreme cold temperatures.

  This is much lower than the Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommended indoor temperature of 72°.

  The data collected on some of the hotter rooms in South is equally surprising. Instructor Liz Wendt’s classroom has an average temperature of 74°, while Weyhmiller’s classroom has an average temperature of 78°. The hottest classroom on record is Dennis’ room, with an average temperature of 79°. The temperature in the classrooms have fluctuated though with Weyhmiller’s room rising to 84° and Dennis’ up to 80° on Nov. 30.

  This range in temperature in a single building is uncommon in centralized heating systems. Most temperature controls in massive buildings are held at constant temperatures throughout a building. This raises the question; why is this happening?

  Over the summer there was an overhaul of the heating system in the South building. The overhaul was part of a district-wide energy management upgrade. Multiple outside companies were hired to complete the maintenance for the school. One contractor was hired to replace various parts within the heating and cooling network in the South building. This work was done in multiple steps back in September at the beginning of the school year. After that, a separate contractor has the task of linking the controllers and sensors together so that each room would individually control their temperature based on its predetermined setting and current temperature. In theory, it functions as part of a new centralized system to allow for a better control of the temperature in each room. But there is one more step necessary to make that theory a reality. The valves, heating coils, and dampers for each room are not yet properly linked. These lack of connections between sensors and valves is what has been causing the extreme temperatures.

  One might think that a classroom being a couple degrees colder or hotter would be easy to ignore, but it becomes a real problem. A recent study in Beaverton, Oregon found that students perform best in a classroom setting at 72°. When the temperature deviates from this recommended temperature, students’ performance starts to degrade due to distraction and discomfort.

  Many students here at West Ottawa, such as Sr. Michaela Shoemaker, agree with the conclusion from the study. “I have a hard time focusing on my work when I’m freezing,” Shoemaker said.

  Some teachers, like Soto, have brought a space heater into their classroom to deal with the cold temperatures. While in many of the warmer rooms students are finding it difficult to focus due to the heat. “With it being so cold outside we have to wear a ton of warm clothes to school to be warm walking between buildings. But with the hot classrooms we then have to shed all of those layers each time to try to be comfortable in an 80° room,” said Sr. Laila Lozano.

  This problem is part of the process of the repairs going on throughout the building. Soon the systems will be properly synced to allow for the proper control of the temperatures in the classrooms in the South building. WO and its contractors are aware that the problem exists and will be fixing it in the coming weeks.