By Josette Keelor
WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County Public Schools has decided to pursue the option of buying a new chiller for W.W. Robinson Elementary Middle School in Woodstock.
The chiller would replace a 9-year-old unit that cools a portion of the school, including the cafeteria, library and surrounding classrooms. Currently the old chiller is running at 50 percent capacity.
At a Thursday night meeting, the School Board considered other options, including purchasing a refurbished chiller for an amount less than a new unit would cost -- approximately $10,000 or $15,000 less. Ultimately, the board decided it would ask the county Board of Supervisors for funds to buy a new unit.
As School Board Chairman Richard L. Koontz Jr. indicated at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, buying a new unit would instill the School Board with greater confidence that the unit will last longer than the current one has lasted.
Superintendent Jeremy J. Raley explained that the School Board plans to pursue the best bid for purchase and installation, expecting to need a maximum of $125,000 to replace the chiller unit.
"It turned out that water got into the compressor and it died," Raley said. Maybe the current chiller will endure at 50 percent, but he said not replacing the unit would be risky.
"It's been a pretty mild summer, but for some reason, when school gets back in session, it gets hot," he said. "You can count on that."
Raley confirmed the school's current chiller was brand new when it was purchased nine years ago and that it came with a one-year manufactures' warranty. He said the School Board could have opted for a five-year extended warranty at the time, but didn't.
Other points he outlined concerned insurance coverage and tax credits. A refurbished unit will qualify for a $4,000 tax credit, but a new unit will not. Although an insurance reimbursement is a possibility, he said that will depend on the outcome of an investigation by the school's insurance company to determine how the unit broke. and that will take time.
"Insurance is not something that we should count on at this time," Raley told the School Board.
Koontz recommended the School Board ask supervisors for the full $125,000 and plan to set aside any future insurance reimbursements from the project to pay back the county.
"I think that's just working together in good faith," Koontz said. He suggested developing "a game plan" with supervisors on how to handle future expenses, such as this, that he said cannot be predicted.
Criticized in Tuesday's meeting for its money management decisions, the School Board also addressed county supervisors' concerns, explaining that waiting to act on improvement projects was not an option.
First, Kathryn Holsinger pointed out, there's a time limit on using the funds.
"You cannot hold capital improvement money until June 30 when you have to return the money June 30, and you cannot have cranes putting rooftop units on schools when the kids are there," she said.
Secondly, "If you've ever replaced compressors or other equipment that goes in buildings, you know that it is not a poor warranty, it is what is available," she said. "And unless you want to spend taxpayer money to buy extended warranties that usually aren't worth the money, that is what is available, that's just the way it is."
The majority of the $450,000 the Board of Supervisors approved for capital improvements to schools has been promised and/or already used for security updates to the county's elementary and high schools and for rooftop air conditioning units to two elementary schools and two middle schools, Raley said.
"We work hard to try to project and think about budget needs," he said, "but none of us in this room has a crystal ball. We can't ultimately predict the future."
"We are already committed to some high dollar projects," he said. "Out of $450,000, we have approximately $20,000 left."
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com