After dealing with complaints about poor air quality at the Riverside-Brookfield High School swimming pool ever since it opened nearly 10 years ago, the District 208 Board of Education has decided to bite the bullet and spend nearly $800,000 to install a new air-handling system.

On Dec. 11, the school board voted 6-0 to award a contract to Mechanical Concepts of Illinois to install the system, which will replacing a unit that turned out to be too small to adequately circulate the air around the swimming pool.

“It’s had nothing but problems for eight years,” said school board member Ramona Towner of the RBHS pool. “My kids have swum at Oak Park because of that. Kids have been sick because of it. It’s worth doing it right, I think.”

The new ventilating system, which will consist of two separate air-handling units, will not be installed until the current school year is almost over, so the boys swimming team and the boys and girls water polo teams this year will still use the pool with its current ventilation system in place this winter and spring. 

“The current unit should get us through the rest of the school year,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.

But Skinkis said that the unit is nearing the end of its life expectancy.

When the water polo season is over, the pool will be shut down for six to eight weeks in May and June to install the new system. Skinkis said that he hopes the pool will reopen with the new units in place by July 4.

At the Dec. 11 school board meeting Skinkis said the original design of the natatorium called for a drop-ceiling and the current air handler unit was sized for that design. But at the time the pool was built, it was decided to eliminate the drop-ceiling to save money. 

However, the specifications of the air-handling system were not changed to take into account the larger space that needed to be ventilated and dehumidified. As a result, the unit that was installed turned out to be too weak for the size of the natatorium.  

“The one now is overworking itself because it’s smaller than it is supposed to be,” said board member Wes Smithing, a member of the board’s Facilities Advisory Council.

Over the years some swimmers and others have complained about poor air quality in the pool. Some suffered from persistent coughs. Skinkis said it is recommended that there be four air exchanges an hour at swimming pools. The existing unit was barely meeting that standard. The two new units will completely exchange the air in the natatorium six times an hour Skinkis said.

In December 2013, the school district spent between $5,000 and $7,000 on repairs to the system. At the same time Wight, the architectural firm that designed the pool, spent thousands of dollars more at its own expense to try to fix the issues with air flow. 

The district had dumped Wight, which designed the entire addition and renovation of the school in 2007-09, as its architect earlier in 2013. A third air-circulating unit that was installed over the pool’s spectator area will remain.

While some have noticed improvements since 2013, the problems with air flow continued. Sometimes the doors to the natatorium are left open to get more air into the pool area and fans are placed on the pool deck to increase air flow.

 “We’ve had a lot of service issues over my eight years for sure, so we thought we it would be better to stick with the other two units being supplied,” Skinkis said.

The cost of the new units will be about $785,000, including installation. Another $14,000 will be spent painting the ceiling and duct work to match the wall paint. Extensive new duct work also will be added so air does not linger just above the water where swimmers breathe it. 

The base bid includes an allowance of $20,000 for unforeseen expenses.

The cost of the project has increased by about $180,000 since the school first got a cost estimate about 18 months ago. The price increase is the result of an increase in the price of steel because of steel tariffs that were imposed earlier this year and an increase in the cost of labor, according to a memo to Skinkis by the district’s architect, Carrie Matlock, president of DLA Architects.

Four companies submitted bid proposals. Mechanical Concepts of Illinois’ bid was $23,000 less than the next lowest bidder.

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