BY MICHAEL MISHLER
Nothing can distract students from a class quite like an uncomfortable classroom. Many students have noticed swings in the temperatures of some of Washtenaw Community College’s classrooms and buildings, ranging from well below room temperature to far above comfortable limits.
One student, Elizabeth Meier, 15, said that her classroom on the third floor of the Gunder-Myran building was so cold one day that students and teachers alike were wearing coats throughout class.
“It’s just way too cold in half the buildings, and I know on the first floor of the LA it’s always like burning hot,” Meier said.
Alex Long, a science instructor, is familiar with that floor. Teaching a WTMC science class primarily in LA 160, Long notes that it’s been consistently hot, sometimes reaching temperatures of up to 82 degrees.
“I think it’s gotten worse to be honest. This is my ninth year that I’ve been in that room, and I don’t remember it being this bad until the past couple of years,” Long said.
Bill Ghrist, energy manager of Washtenaw Community College, attributes the problem to faulty equipment.
“These equipment pieces have so many moving parts. Some of them are not the best design that we’ve ended up with,” Ghrist said. “We’re working at upgrading systems as we need and where we can, but everything related to the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) industry is generally very expensive.”
Ghrist equates the equipment problem to taking in a high-end vehicle for repairs: “The cost of the repair, parts and labor can be very, very expensive.”
The Facilities Department has in-house staff who can carry out much of the repair work, but there is only so much they can do.
“There are large volumes of equipment that are constantly needing to be attended to,” Ghrist said.
Despite the challenges of maintaining a climate-controlled environment, Ghrist explained that facilities is always trying to make sure every space on campus is relatively comfortable.
“I’d like to eliminate the wild swings in the temperatures that we’re having,” Ghrist said.
He also mentioned the multiple options available to students and employees for reporting out-of-normal environmental conditions.
“We want people to put in a request through our famous self-service system and any person that is a college employee has the opportunity through MyWCC,” Ghrist said.
The other option is a hotline that is available using any campus phone by dialing 8777. It’s manned typically between about 7:30 a.m. – 7 p.m Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. on Friday, according to Ghrist. Once someone calls and reports a condition, a service request will be put in on behalf of the caller and mechanical systems will investigate the problem right away, Ghrist said.
He also explained some new equipment upgrades that have been installed on the HVAC system.
“A factor that’s been added is the use of what are called Variable Frequency Drives, so instead of having a large fan motor that runs at a constant speed, we are able to change the speed of the motor which makes the fan operate at only the speed we need for the delivery of air,” Ghrist said. “We are also working on the scheduling of rooms so we can basically get them shut down when they’re not needed such as on a Friday night when the classes aren’t going much past 6 p.m., so we’ve been trying to dial back when we can.”
Ghrist stressed that facilities is aware of the heating/cooling problem and is working to both fix the unstable temperatures and maintain an otherwise comfortable environment that benefits everyone on campus.