STAMFORD, CT – While the temperature and humidity outside Westover Elementary School were high on Friday, it felt cool and dry inside.
On Friday, Stamford Mayor David Martin and City Engineer Lou Casolo unveiled the new Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOAS) recently installed to solve a decade-long mold problem at the school.
Two DOAS units are in operation and will serve 46 classrooms at the start of school on August 30th. A third system is expected to be installed towards the end of September that will support 21 rooms.
The systems bring outside air into the building, where it is dehumidified before entering the classrooms. In the past, air was drawn in through the unit’s fans that condition the air in each classroom, Casolo explained, but the moisture was not removed.
As a result, combined with poor maintenance and the unusually humid environment in the valley around the school, condensation formed on ceiling tiles and pipes and mold developed.
Martin said the problems first started in 1998 and went unnoticed until discovered in the fall of 2018.
“Over the years, water came in from the roof, water came in from the drains, water came out of the ground, water flowed through the unit’s fans,” said Martin. “This school had a lot of water problems which, depending on maintenance, naturally resulted in mold.”
City officials and Stamford Public School have teamed up to form a joint Mold Task Force. The school closed in 2018 and a makeshift school for Westover students was built at Harbor Point while construction began to correct the problem.
The DOAS systems complement an original $ 24.3 million mold remediation project in Westover, which involves replacing all ceiling tiles, milling, cabinets and a significant portion of the floor tiles on the school’s first floor, as well as replacing essential systems, to meet updated building codes. It was almost entirely funded by Stamford taxpayers.
After this work was completed, moist air was still entering the building, so it was recommended that the DOAS systems be installed. The cost of the systems is around $ 2.8 million, according to Casolo. Viking Construction acted as general contractor and Encon acted as mechanical subcontractor.
This problem is not limited to Westover. Hart Elementary School has a similar problem related to moisture ingress into the building, albeit not as severe, Martin said.
“The challenge is that the school may have to be completely rebuilt. It’s so old, it takes so much work, we don’t want to put a lot of money into a school and tear it down. That’s waiting for the school layout plan, so we’ll see if it makes sense to invest or if it’s better to start over, “added Martin.
Martin praised Casolo and his team for working quickly to have two of the three units ready for the start of the school year. The third unit in Lexington, Ky is awaiting completion due to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.
Officials hope the installation can be completed by October. In the meantime, portable dehumidifiers are being used in these classrooms.
“Lou and his team did a marvelous job with Viking Construction. Her first guess was that we wouldn’t be here today. Their first estimate was that in a year we could fix this with the DOAS system, ”said Martin. “Hopefully, keep your fingers crossed and this will finally tackle the problems that started in 1998 and that weren’t really addressed until we all got together.”