Greenback School Reopens Tuesday, Jan 19



School Board votes to reopen  

By: Pat Hunter

At Thursday's Jan. 14th  Loudon County Board of Education meeting, Gregg Farmer, a mechanical engineer with Hodge Associates gave his report about gas issues at Greenback School. He was contacted by Leo Bradshaw, Loudon County Maintenance/Purchasing director to inspect Greenback School. Farmer said that he had been at the Greenback School regarding "gas leak issues" three (3) times this week.  He mentioned that a plumbing contractor had been on site, Scotts Heating & Plumbing. He shared his statistics. There were about 1400 joints in gas piping and he personally inspected 1361 today. About 45 are concealed above ceilings that they could not get to. There are 14 nozzles in the science lab. There are 54 regulators on 62 gas fired appliances and 3 separate gas meters that serve the school. We found one leak that was found in a shop room behind the gym, which was repaired. He continued, we pressure and leak tested all 3 gas systems so as of today, the gas system at Greenback School is performing just as it is supposed to, Farmer informed the school Board.

Can you tell me, what kind of job do you think, did Interstate Mechanical did in installing those units; were they installed correctly asked school board member Leroy Tate. Yes, everything is operating as it is supposed to Farmer replied. So you're saying that the workmanship is what it should have been when the equipment was installed, yes Farmer replied to Tate.

Could you tell me about the UL altering inquired board member Lisa Russell; was that corrected? Yes, replied Farmer. And how many appliances was that done on asked Russell. Farmer responded, what Ms. Russell is referring to, let's say there are some 40 packaged window gas fired units like those used in a motel room. In one of the courtyards where the complaints were prevalent, the county maintenance staff extended by a couple of inches the gas vents flues to address the problems. This was mentioned to Mr. Bradshaw. He didn't like that idea for the fact that all these pieces are UL listed and this practice altered UL but that was corrected yesterday. That was one of his recommendations on his survey. That was done to two pieces.

Board member Van Shaver asked about the hot water heaters. Farmer spoke about 2 hot water heaters, one of which was problematic is a 250,000 BTU, 100 gal. hot water heater open combustion unit near the cafeteria. It is working like it is designed and functioning correctly. Will one have to be replaced asked Shaver? One unit will be replaced. It is a nuisance rather than a dysfunction type situation. So essentially you are giving us a clean bill of health, parents can feel safe commented Van Shaver.

Farmer gave more information. Natural gas and propane gas is odorless. Gas company's add odor so you can smell it. The odor is kin to rotten eggs. You can smell gas under 10 ppm (parts per million). The gas leak detector used by the fire chief uses the same range. It can detect gas at 10 ppm. To support combustion you need somewhere around 1000 ppm, so one hundredth is needed to support for combustion explained Farmer. In one meeting, Chief Lett reported that once he got his ppm meter, he has never recorded anything other than 10 ppm when he was called out to the school. So even though the smell is there, its very light and you can barely smell it; its never been an unsafe condition. You've never had a concentration of gas in that 1000 ppm range that would support combustion, Farmer commented. Mr. Farmer but could at 10 ppm cause children to have headaches if that is consistent; not natural gas, replied Farmer, he is not aware of any symptoms that natural gas would cause headaches or dizziness.

Van Shaver asked I am looking past you to Mr. Jones, one requirement from the State Fire Marshall is gas detectors sensors, will this still be required given Farmer's report. Nashville would have to make that decision after they see Mr. Farmer's sealed signed and stamped report replied Mr. Jones from the audience.

Board member Bobby Johnson, Jr. referenced a maintenance/school bldg committee meeting, regarding some gas detectors in some areas. 

County maintenance/purchasing director Leo Bradshaw addressed the Board. The report from the Fire Marshall said that we would install monitors in the affected areas. One hundred (100) monitor units installed in the affected area tied into the fire alarm system would cost about $28,000. If you do 10 or 20 the cost would be less. Shaver hoped that the elimination of the gas hot heater would be helpful.

School Director Wayne Honeycutt asked Gregg Farmer to describe the function of the regulators and change of pressure and what might happen. Farmer said that there are 54-gas fired appliances that have regulators. A regulator reduces the pressure in the gas piping to a pressure that is appropriate for the gas appliance to burn it at commented Farmer. On one side its higher and on the other side of the regulator is a lower pressure. With some 60 odd appliances turning on and off the pressure inside the pipe is constantly moving. When a regulator has a significant pressure differential across it, its designed to vent a small amount of gas. The regulators are working as they should nothing that could support combustion. He said that the parts per million is very very low to smell it. Farmer said that he would recommend relocating the vent discharges away from the windows.

There is a flue issue to the hot water heater, which is adjacent to the kitchen /cafeteria area. The problem is annoying not hazardous and another style of water heater.  He recommended a sealed combustion hot water heater.   

Board member Larry Proaps inquired about the age of the gas meters, which were changed out about 4-months ago and all 54 regulators are all new. A plumber tightened up the regulator too tight and broke it but it was replaced according to Farmer.

Jones asked Farmer to address whether the venting of the regulators that are below the windows and within certain ranges of open air intakes, do those meet the national gas codes for their installation that are within 10 feet of openings? He spoke about having oxidizers in the agriculture building. Since the regulators were really close that the regulators stick open and vent back into the building?  Farmer replied that the study and report, which he was scheduled to do the next day would address the specific codes and his recommendation to extend all the vents above the eves to get out of the way.  He said that he was no longer an engineer and now he was talking as a "Dad".   My kids are in school and they say we smelled gas and the teacher smelled gas but we stayed in the room because the teacher said that it was OK. Personally, not speaking as an "Engineer guy" but as a "Dad guy" I don't want a teacher making that call relayed Gregg Farmer. If the teacher smells gas, the teachers need to get the kids to a safe place. This is why we have people with meters and professionals. Its not combustible but its a nuisance.

When do we go back to school asked Shaver. Bobby Johnson, Jr. commented that he and Farmer spoke and if everything was ok with the inspection, the kids would go back on Tues since Monday was a holiday. The School Board voted to reopen school on Tuesday.