Gonzales Hall air pressure imbalance discovered in follow-up report

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Symptoms include stuffy head and sinus discomfort.

By R. Eguia

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

The follow-up air quality test results of Gonzales Hall showed an imbalanced airflow in the building and unusually large measurements of airborne particles in Room 102, but more testing is coming.

The tests, conducted in December and January by Environmental, Health and Safety Consulting Inc., found an “anomaly of particle measurements in the 5.0 and 10.0 micron sizes,” in Room 102 that has been closed off and vacant for several years.

Room 102 was mentioned throughout the report because it used to house a crawl space that went underneath the building that has now been sealed.

Michael Legg, director of enterprise risk management for Alamo Colleges, said the particles could be anything from pollen to dust mites to pieces of drywall.

“We do not believe additional testing is needed for the particulates as none exceed the established safe limits, so we will not conduct a follow-up test to understand the abnormal readings,” Legg said.

The district abides by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for permissible exposure limits to chemical substances that exist in indoor air.

The report also showed that air pressure is not balanced in the building.

Too much air is flowing into the building and not enough air is flowing out, Legg said.

“The imbalance is more prevalent in some rooms than others. It’s not a health hazard as much as a discomfort, but it can create a stuffy head and impact the sinus and nasal cavity,” he said.

John Strybos, associate vice chancellor of facilities, said he will hire additional consultants to begin more tests to find out what is the exact source of the air pressure imbalance.

The 52-page report organizes a visual assessment of the entire building, complete with charts measuring levels of moisture, oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and methane in each room of both floors. Tests were also done outside of the building and in the hallways.

Air sampling and thermal imaging detected mold under the building. Additional testing was performed to detect volatile organic compounds: a chemical that contains carbon that easily become vapors or gases.

The report states that “mold does not appear to be growing within the building but it’s growing underneath.”

The report also documented ventilation, temperature and humidity measures.

Mike Burton, chair of the English department, which is housed in Gonzales Hall, said, “We do have some faculty with low immune systems and they are concerned.”

Legg said his team and Burton are organizing a Q-&-A session with all occupants of Gonzales Hall to acknowledge all questions and concerns.

No date has been set for the session. Legg said his team plans on addressing some items with occupants of the Moody Learning Center at the same meeting.

Strybos said it seems like a relatively straightforward air pressure problem, and further testing will determine the actual price tag of the repair.

The preventative facilities budget for the district this year is $13.5 million, but since this issue is new, it’s not covered by that budget.

Once a cost is determined, the facilities team will reorganize the 2016 budget to make room for appropriate repairs to Gonzales Hall, Strybos said.

The repair cost could reschedule some facilities projects that were on the original budget.

If the cost is too big to be accommodated in this year’s budget, the repairs could potentially be pushed to next year, Strybos said.

Gonzales Hall is an old building and could use a lot of work, but only when the district finds the money to do so, he said. Gonzales Hall and McCreless Hall are the oldest buildings on campus, both erected in 1950.

Legg said the district spends lots of money to investigate complaints and his department takes them very seriously, even though in most cases they find nothing wrong.

Legg said air surveys are not cheap, typically costing anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 depending on the depth of the test, because they employ the only certified industrial hygienist in the city.

The conclusions from the report are:

• Much “over pressure” — or excessive positive air — is present. Excessive positive pressure can make occupants “feel” uncomfortable. Over-pressurized room spaces cause inadequate ventilation efficiency and complaints of indoor air quality.

• The landscaping does not divert the water from the crawl space. VOCs are not present in the crawl space, which indicates the chemicals were not dumped into nor stored in this area.

• The temperatures and relative humidities were within range for comfort ventilation.

• The blocking of supply diffusers has a negative impact on the balance of the system.

• Because of the maintenance on the HVAC, the reduction during vacation, it was decided that the inspection of the room unit would be delayed with results provided under separate cover.

• The particle dosimetry in Room 102 will be redone to attempt to determine the anomaly of particle measurements in the 5.0 and 10.0 micron sizes.

• The vacuum of the rug for the mold growth was unremarkable.

• Every ceiling tile that was stained had either a pipe, valve, drip pan, or ventilation duct condensation that was the cause.

• The recommendations from the report are listed here:

• Complete a total test and balance of the building; however, remove all blocks covering the supply diffusers.

• Get input from the occupants of the room concerning their respective comfort and desired temperature.

• Replace all stained ceiling tiles after the cause of the staining is corrected as indicated in the photographs.

• Power ventilate the crawl space and place it under negative pressure by exhausting the air.

• Change the landscaping to divert the water from the crawlspace.

• Share the results of the investigation with the occupants.

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