Poor design cause of library's A/C problems
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - Features
>Two years after opening, the library's heating and cooling systems seem to be working, although at some added costThings are just right at the Crook County library, now that $71,000 worth of repairs to the facility's air conditioning and heating systems are complete. The only question left is: who will pay for it?
Problems with the $2.7 million county library's air conditioning and heating systems began soon after the new facility opened. The problem first made itself apparent in January, 2000, just a couple of months after the building opened. The first indication was when the thermostat blew a fuse. Next, the problem steadily escalated from water dripping from pipes in the ceiling in early June to smoking and flaming motors less than two weeks later.
It was thought at the time that the motor catching fire was an event which could have been avoided if it had been a properly installed motor containing a heat sensitive device, which would have shut the system down when it began to overheat. Although no serious damage happened at the time, the fire was just another indication of faulty system installation.
In August, 2000, the problem was believed to be with the motors that ran the system. According to Library Trustee Frank Porfily, who called the problem a "hiccup" in the heating and air conditioning system, the contractor would be held responsible for making the repairs at no additional cost to the library, though there could conceivably be some litigation over repair costs between the contractor and the subcontractor.
Tye Engineering and Surveying was hired by the library to conduct a study, which was completed in late July, 2000. Their findings indicated that in addition to clogged filtration and overall "poor workmanship," some of the piping used to run coolant through the system may be of a smaller diameter than the system's design demanded. There was some indication that the installation of regulating sensors costing as little $100 would nip the problem in the bud.
Porfily said in August of that year that if the problem could not be solved by the installation of sensor devices the general contractor, AP Construction, could cite a design flaw. But apparently the subcontractor, Hood River Heating and Cooling, was supposed to have obtained approval for their design before they installed it, and apparently they didn't go through that process.
If the quick fix doesn't work, Porfily estimated that it could range upwards of $10,000 to have the system overhauled. However, by the time the problem had been studied yet again, and what is now considered to be the actual problem had been discovered, the cost for repairs had escalated to $71,468.
In a letter to MFIA Engineers, the firm that designed the heating and cooling system, with a copy to the company that installed the equipment, Hood River Heating and Plumbing, Crook County legal counsel Jeff Wilson suggested a settlement. The letter, dated Jan. 4, 2002, explained that in July and August, 2000, representatives from Cascade Heating and Specialties had performed a detailed inspection of the heating and cooling system.
Wilson wrote the letter explaining that although there were multiple problems, a main theme appeared to relate to the installation of the five-ton cooling unit.
The original plan for the system called for the ductwork to be designed to carry a capacity of 4.3 tons, or 1,639 cubic feet per minute (CFM). Hood River's decision to install five-ton units met the minimum specification of 4.2 tons, Wilson said in his letter, adding that "we believe that MFIA should have recognized that the ductwork was undersized and would require at least 2,000 CFM to operate."
Wilson indicated that manufacturers produce cooling units in either four-ton or five-ton capacity. The engineers should have anticipated that the subcontractor would install five-ton units to meet the specifications for 4.2 ton units. That was the main problem, Wilson said, but not the only one. Additional code problems involved having two furnaces placed too close to one another and a failure to properly insulate the ductwork.
Under normal conditions, these two issues would not meet code and would not have been approved. However, Wilson said for reasons he is not exactly clear about, instead of the county building inspector signing off on the project, apparently the inspections were handled by the contractor.
In his demand letter to the engineering firm, Wilson suggested that, in an effort to avoid the time and expense of litigation, a $50,000 settlement would be acceptable. A representative of MFIA Consulting Engineers, Wilson said, responded by saying "you've got the wrong guy." Hood River Heating and Cooling have not yet responded.
Meanwhile, the heating and cooling system at the library is working but the question of who will end up paying the $71,000 price tag remains unclear.