Star Service's Public/Private Partnership with Jefferson Parish School System

Star Service's Public/Private Partnership with Jefferson Parish School System

The Jefferson Parish School System is one of the largest and most innovative in the state of Louisiana.

The Jefferson Parish School System is one of the largest and most innovative in the state of Louisiana. The administration, school board, teachers, and staff all share a deep devotion to providing the best possible education. The Jefferson Parish School System also takes great pride in their facilities and understands the importance of a healthy, comfortable learning environment.

Big Problems at Jefferson Parish

They were facing a problem plaguing school systems across the country: the ongoing costly deterioration of the physical plant equipment that controls the school’s environment. A United States General Accounting Office study concluded that nationwide, inadequate heating, ventilating, and air conditioning affects over 28,000 schools and more than 15 million students. One of the school principals shared, "This school was just in chaos with the temperatures. It’s been a serious problem here.” A teacher agreed, "Here in New Orleans, especially with the humidity being as high as it is, you get a 90 degree temperature and a 90 percent humidity. Without proper air conditioning or air flow inside of a classroom, it gets pretty hot. A lot of our classrooms here don’t even have windows. We call them sweat boxes.” Another principal added, "If it’s too warm or if it’s too cold or something isn’t right, that distracts the attention of the students from the teacher."

The School Board Weighs their Options

To keep their covenant with the community, the individual school boards must spend more and more precious resources repairing these systems, usually just in time to repair them again. The school system was spending approximately 1.2 million dollars per year, maintaining repairing, and replacing these air conditioning systems. Deferred maintenance was growing--and reliability was becoming an issue. Some non-instructional areas had no working heating and air conditioning for years. Maintenance staffs were overwhelmed. Putting out fires became the only routine maintenance strategy.

Over the years, millions of dollars were spent to essentially take one step forward, two steps back.

Major Maintenance Issues:

  • Chillers had been taken apart, then abandoned.
  • Large refrigeration compressions had also failed but had not been replaced.
  • Dirty black water filled distribution systems that had never been flushed out or chemically treated.
  • Strainers were clogged. Hundreds of room air conditioning units were never treated or flushed properly.
  • Hundreds of coils became fouled but could not be isolated for service because the proper valves were never installed.
  • Air handling unit coils were so packed with dirt air could not move through them.
  • Entire control systems had been abandoned.
  • Air compressors, air dryers, and pneumatic controls were out of service and abandoned.
  • Chilled water valves were blocked open.
  • Failed components took electric and pneumatic controls and automation systems out of service in every school.

Field issues to be resolved before control systems could be repaired:

  • Chilled water and condenser water pump motors had failed in a number of the schools.
  • Costly backup systems were out of service or in dire need of repair. If these backup pumps had failed, the schools would have been without cooling.
  • Cooling towers, neglected for years, were to the point of being condemned.
  • Heavy shafts and fans weighing hundreds of pounds were supported by rotten beams.
  • Bearings were hanging on with a single loose bolt.
  • Every time one particular water tower sump was shut down, it drenched 280 volt electric pumps with hundreds of gallons of water.
  • Some pump seals and valve packings had makeshift tin covers to stop water from spraying on high voltage equipment.
  • Bearing seals throughout the system had ruptured and were losing lubricant.
  • In one school, there was no easy way to control the central plant.
  • Complex components had failed or needed repair and calibration.

The Answer: Star Service

Although hundreds of thousands of dollars had been invested in equipment, teachers and students remained uncomfortable, simply because operators could not turn equipment on and off. Problems with controlling the environment were common throughout these ten schools. Systems ran wild, and in many areas, the temperature ranged from very hot to very cold. Rust and neglect were taking their toll. Millions were spent on entirely new systems instead of simply replacing failed components.

Implementing proactive repairs and professionally managing preventative maintenance: that was the challenge. Clearly a different approach was needed to overcome the problems. A different attitude was needed towards the physical plants. Instead of seeing them as fragile, undependable systems, it would be necessary to begin to see them as the workhorses they are, when given the proper attention. The main components of the units are truly designed to last forever. A new strategy was investigated: stop the aging process, refurbish the existing units, change the practice of system replacement, and begin a program of intensive, professionally-managed preventative maintenance.

Sound Strategy

The Jefferson Parish school board and the administration faced a problem seen by school systems across the nation: trying to stay on top by maintaining and managing complex machinery utilizing a slow, deliberate paper-work laden procurement process that ultimately lacked accountability from the vendors. One principal said, "The problem that we’ve had in the past was, we have never had anyone take the responsibility for making something work, and if it didn’t work, we would have to pay them over and over again for service calls.”

This innovative school system needed to do more. After years of evaluation, in an attempt to make better use of capital resources, the board made an innovative and decisive move to hand over the responsibility of the complex heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, including all central systems to an outside partner, relieving themselves of engineering, construction, commissioning, repair, and maintenance responsibilities. One company offered its help: Star Service.

Star Service Forms a Plan

For Jefferson Parish, Star would assume 100% accountability for the maintenance, repair, and if necessary, the capital replacement of the environmental systems in the schools. The board also wanted Star Service to guarantee the long term success of the program at a yearly fixed cost. Star Service would provide a comfortable environment throughout all ten schools for a fixed monthly fee.

Star Service began by performing a detailed survey of all the school equipment, cataloging the equipment by location, model, and serial number, and documented the general condition. They interviewed principals, teachers, and plant engineers to determine operational needs. Star’s team of engineers, technicians, and project managers developed a plan to bring every environmental system back to like-new condition. Then each piece of equipment was individually slated for an intensive program for quarterly preventative maintenance. A custom project schedule was developed to resolve all of the school's heating and air conditioning problems. The project schedule was finalized with the help of the principal and plant managers, taking into consideration classroom schedules. A principal commented,”Star was very helpful in working along with me in coming up with a solution that was not as disruptive for the students and the teachers.”

The Solution

The initial focus on attention was on each school’s central plant equip. There were a number of issues that required immediate attention.

  • Cooling towers had to be refurbished and recommissioned, years of sludge and mold growth were removed, and a chemical treatment was added to condition the water.
  • Pumps had to be rebuilt and valves repaired to allow a backup source of chilled water for the building.
  • Chiller tube barrels needed to be opened and cleaned. Controls, Safeties, and interlocks had to be checked, repaired, and calibrated for proper operation.
  • Sophisticated oil analysis was performed to bring attention to any potential internal problem.
  • Eddy current tests that helped determine the integrity of tube bundles were performed.
  • All machines were repaired and adjusted to operate at proper temperature, pressure, and fluid levels.
  • Strainers were backwashed, and distribution systems were flushed out and chemically treated.
  • In some cases, entire systems had to be replaced.

With temporary backup chillers in place, an old chiller was demolished and removed. Building modifications were made and a new 300-ton chiller was installed, commissioned, and brought online. Once all the central plants were at 100% operational capacity, Star’s team of technicians started analyzing the school’s distribution systems, identifying and resolving issues that affected student and teacher comfort on a room by room basis. Within the first six months of the program, Star Service expended over 6,000 man hours, rehabilitating the environmental systems. During the first two months of the contract alone, the school board canceled more than $400,000 in construction-related work that no longer needed to be performed. The hard work really paid off when the aging cycle was ended and control was gained over the systems.

Satisfied Clients

Now the most important step in the program can be implemented: intensive quarterly preventative maintenance and the proactive repair of questionable components. Star service took control of the systems and reacts to and attacks potential problems before they affect the users. One principal agreed, "Star has been very cooperative in making sure that they are pleasing the client and I must say they have been doing that.” Another principal shared, "They are interested in the teachers, they are approachable, they are willing to talk to anyone who want to talk to them.” This dynamic approach not only ends the aging process but brings costs under control, dramatically improving reliability and comfort.

This level of service and quality is guaranteed as long as Star Service maintains the systems:

  • No surprises.
  • Excellent service.
  • Comfortable environments.
  • A single fixed monthly cost.

With federal and local governments, as well as local school boards, fighting a losing war on school maintenance, but still convinced that the only solution is more taxpayer money, Jefferson Parish has led the way and developed a partnership solution that provides rehabilitation, repair, and maintenance of these complex systems within existing budgets. More important is the long-term environmental security this partnership offers. As one principal revealed, "Star has made a major difference to our school and that our problems are in the past."