A persistently “unpleasant” smell in the corridors of the recently constructed Berg Middle School has provoked concerns from the community, but the school district announced Wednesday in an email to parents the odor “is not harmful” and is being dealt with.
Signed by Newton Community School District Superintendent Bob Callaghan, Berg Middle School Principal Lisa Sharp and NCSD Maintenance Supervisor Jack Suttek, the announcement stated new construction can cause “unforeseen issues,” especially when the work is completed during “the middle of the school year and in an atypical winter.”
The new state-of-the-art middle school opened its doors to staff and students in grades 5-8 in January, while demolition of the neighboring old building was still underway. Although the new BMS “is well-designed to construction and safety code,” administrators attributed the smell to several “perfect storm” occurrences.
Initially noticed about two weeks ago by school maintenance crews, the faint rotten egg smell’s origin is not entirely certain but is suspected to be the result of rapid evaporation of water collected in the school’s heat pump drain boxes. Suttek speculates the water in the P-trap pipping evaporated during the construction process or possibly may not have been filled.
Typically, the water in P-trap pipes blocks sewer gas expelling from drains. As the gas released from vent pipes on the BMS roof, Suttek said if the wind and atmospheric pressure are just right, “it will transfer that smell into one of those fresh air return” vents. These mechanisms recirculate air throughout the school, along with the exiting odor apparently.
The school district’s email notifying middle school parents cited “barometric pressure” and unusual winter weather conditions as the potential culprits. Sharp told the Newton Daily News the sections of the school affected by the smell varies and that “it’s not the same area all the time,” largely depending on “which way the wind is blowing.”
Suttek said, “Due to Mother Nature, it will swirl that smell around and take it right into our fresh air intakes. It’s somehow getting sucked back into the building.”
After uncovering the smell, maintenance crews have since filled the P-traps with an “environmentally friendly orange oil odor blocking trap primer,” which is expected to not evaporate as quickly and act as a seal to prevent the escaping gases “from entering the building through the air handling units,” school administration explained.
Although school administrators assert the vent stack pipes on the roof of the two-story school are the required code height, they expect it was not enough to disperse the smell efficiently. In response, maintenance crews had originally attached extended pipes to the vent stacks.
“That’s one of the things we did to try an experiment with, so to speak. We’re trying to see what we can do to alleviate it,” Suttek said. “By extending those we’re trying to move the point of exit further away.”
By early Thursday afternoon, Suttek and maintenance technician Jeff Versteegh received a shipment of OdorHog charcoal vent pipe filters. The NCSD maintenance personnel unfastened the extended vent pipes on the roof and installed the filters instead. If need be, Suttek said he may reattach the pipe extensions if the results are not to his liking.
Suttek said the OdorHog filters have a service life of up to four years. He added that Farris Engineering, of Urbandale, is assisting in the school’s efforts to rid itself of the odor.
“My expectation is once we get these all installed the smell better be gone,” Suttek said. “If that doesn’t solve the problem it’s going to require further investigation by the engineering firm.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or email@example.com