WEST ORANGE, NJ — Robert Csigi, Director of Buildings and Grounds for West Orange Public Schools, provided the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) with an update last week on the indoor air quality and water quality issues that have been affecting the district for several months.
Regarding the indoor air quality, Csigi reported that the Building and Grounds Department has identified several options to repair the airflow into classrooms and to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that was building up in classrooms. This includes placing fans in the classrooms, repairing the Univents and replacing the Univents with HVAC units, he said.
“The Univents can be repaired, but that’s only repairing the air flow into the classroom and the ventilation part of it, that’s not addressing any of the heating side issues like coils and valves and so forth,” said Csigi. “So, it’s kind of putting a ‘Band-Aid’ on an open wound, but it did bring down the indoor quality levels—the CO2 levels—that were actually in there, so it’s actually gotten better.”
To date, the Buildings and Grounds Department has spent $84,000 on repairing 17 Univents but is still investigating options that will save the district money. According to Csigi, it is currently projected that repairing or replacing all the ventilation units throughout the district will cost more than $12.5 million, which was not reflected in the budget for 2019-2020.
“We’re just looking to see where we’ll go in the future on expending money in the budget for those types of repairs,” said Csigi, who added that since testing and completing repairs at the West Orange High School, Hazel Elementary and Mount Pleasant Elementary, the district has come a long way and has “shown that the repairs do work.”
Regarding issues with Legionella, Csigi said that West Orange High School (WOHS) should be able to start using the water fountains in the building on Tuesday.
“We just got our water results today and out of 28 water fountains, we still have minor bacteria in three of the 28,” he said. “We’re not going to turn those back on, [but] we’re looking at possibly replacing those to get the water quality down to ‘non-detected’ in those three.”
Csigi explained that the results were collected after random testing was conducted throughout all the schools.
He also said there are still “consistent concerns” at WOHS and Edison Middle School, but that the Legionella has reached low levels at WOHS as compared to what it was originally found in July 2018. Csigi said last week that he expected to receive the water testing results from Edison prior to Memorial Day Weekend and that he hopes the school’s water levels will be comparable to those found at WOHS.
Csigi said that “the ideal is have no Legionella bacteria,” but that low levels of bacterial growth should still not be enough to cause any illnesses.
In August 2018, Redwood was the first school to test positive for Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ Disease—a serious type of pneumonia. Csigi explained that the water temperatures in the hot water tanks—which was at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit—were not hot enough, and that this is what allowed the bacteria to grow. In order to correct this, Csigi said that all hot water tanks have been set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which will kill the bacteria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Legionella grows best at 77-to-108 degrees Fahrenheit.
Csigi also said that investigations were conducted for “dead-end” pipes—"where piping is not used that often,” and where stagnant water can exacerbate Legionella growth—and that those areas have been repaired. He added that the water used in the schools’ kitchens or cafeterias have proved to have “non-detectable” levels of Legionella.
The Buildings and Grounds Department is currently in the process of replacing the aerators on faucets, which would allow the water to turn into a mist. Csigi reminded the public that Legionnaire’s Disease can only be caused by bacteria that are inhaled, not ingested. By removing the aerators on faucets, Csigi said this will “minimize the chances of water being aerated.”
Csigi also mentioned that the department has reduced the number of shower banks in the district from 12 to four, all of which have filters on them. Csigi also announced that there is no detectable level of Legionella in the cooling tower at the high school.
The Buildings and Grounds Department is also in the process of creating its water management plan. According to Csigi, there are two in place at the high school and Edison with smaller water management plans in place for the other buildings.
This plan primarily consists of “flushing the systems five times a year, predominantly during the summer when the buildings are inactive,” according to Csigi.
Based on concerns brought up by WOHS dean Mark Maniscalco and resident Jennifer Tunnicliffe, Csigi announced that he intends to write a detailed report on both the air quality and water quality in the district.
For next school year, Csigi said that the only two capital projects that are funded by the 2019-2020 budget include the $244,000 that has been allocated toward work at Saint Cloud Elementary and electrical upgrades at WOHS. He also mentioned that $130,000 will be used to repair potholes on the Conforti driveway over the summer.
Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez also commented saying that the “five-year plan,” which outlines what needs to be done for capital and building maintenance, will be discussed at the next board meeting to be held on June 3 in the WOHS auditorium.