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San Diego Unified To Improve Maintenance Process After Heating System Outage

A parked school bus in San Diego, Nov. 1, 2018.

Photo by KPBS Staff

Above: A parked school bus in San Diego, Nov. 1, 2018.

The San Diego Unified School District is improving how it addresses and communicates around maintenance issues after it took more than four weeks to fully resolve a heating system outage at a school in City Heights.

The outage that began in late January affected 15 classrooms at Monroe Clark Middle School. The school provided portable heaters while it worked to fix the problem, which was resolved on Feb. 21, but a teacher told KPBS some classroom temperatures reached the low 50s. The school also offered instructors the opportunity to move to a warmed space during the outage but none chose to relocate.

In a March 1 memo to the school board, Superintendent Cindy Marten said the outage was linked to inaccurate breaker settings for a newly installed heating and air conditioning system, which required communication among multiple parties, including a subcontractor. She said after examining its response to the issue the district plans to better review newly installed equipment.

RELATED: Why It Took A Month To Fix The Heating System For These City Heights Classrooms

That includes the way maintenance of new systems are handed off from a contractor to district staff, which is known as commissioning.

“In the case of Clark, a more robust commissioning process may have caught the erroneous breaker settings that were the cause of the equipment malfunction,” the document said.

Additionally, the district said it will improve how employees prioritize work orders, especially “any site or system-wide outage,” according to the memo. The heating system was not examined by a district technician until 16 days after the outage was first reported.

The district will also train on-site custodial staff to better communicate school maintenance needs to the district’s Physical Plant Operations department, abbreviated as PPO.

“In researching the PPO response to the Clark issue, it was apparent that the severity and magnitude of the situation was not readily known,” the memo said. “For example, the number of classrooms affected was not clearly understood by the maintenance staff.”

A district spokesman provided the memo to KPBS on Tuesday. School Board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne requested the information after KPBS contacted the elected official for comment for an initial story. Clark Middle is located in her district.

The changes, detailed in a memo to the school board, come after KPBS reported on a heating system outage at a City Heights school that took more than four weeks to fully fix.

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