Sub-freezing temperatures over the past two weeks added urgency to replacing aging HVAC units at Muskogee High School, school officials say.

In a presentation to the Muskogee School Board on Tuesday, Muskogee Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Eric Wells said the district knew the MHS system was beyond its useable age, "but this officially has us in panic mode and MPS needs to act."

Wells sub-freezing temperatures caused water line breaks at such sites as Indian Bowl stadium and Pershing Elementary. But a water line beak at MHS "hit the high school right in the heart."

"What it did was break over the main 2,000 amp service breaker for the whole high school campus," Wells said. "It was -9 degrees that day. The water froze and it damaged the breakers, which are anywhere from 250 to 400 amps. One of the breakers runs the boiler system, and there was no way to heat the high school in those -9 temperatures."

No students or teachers were at the high school at the time.

Wells said on Tuesday that power was restored at the high school that morning. He said outside contractors were brought in to help heat the building.

"We're unknown at the high school right now with the HVAC system," he said. "We were able to get it to limp along, but these fixes will be temporary."

He said many heating-air conditioning and ventilation units date to when MHS was built more than 50 years ago. Chiller towers are about 10 years old, he said. There also is a lot of wrapped asbestos pipe in the ceiling.

Muskogee School Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said the high school's HVAC system is "just in poor shape."

"We've always known how old it is, but when it fails and you're forced to do something, it's like your own home. 'My heater still works so I'm still going to keep it going.' But when a major cold front comes in and cracks everything, replacing it is the really right answer," he said.

Mendenhall said work on the high school's HVAC ought to begin within a month, though it could take several months to put the project out to bid and get the equipment here.

It could take 16 to 19 months to replace everything in the 50-year-old MHS buildings, Mendenhall said.

"We'll be up and running, but it won't be comfortable until we replace all the equipment," he said. "We're going to be taking out ceilings and we're going to be running new duct work. You can't do that while kids are in school."

The high school might be able to close off classrooms to do repairs, then move students back into the classrooms.

Mendenhall said it would cost $4 to 6 million to replace the entire HVAC system at the high school "because it's so big."

He said COVID-19 stimulus money the district received could help MPS pay for the system repairs because it would improve building ventilation.

The district also could use money from the bond issue voters passed in 2019, which includes $12 million for high school renovations.

The frozen weather also damaged six 30-year-old HVAC units at the Sixth Grade Academy, Wells said, adding that replacement could cost about $100,000. 

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