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Midway district power issues discussed

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

September 17, 2013

The Sampson County Board of Education received an update during its work session Tuesday morning on the power surge that occurred at Midway High School and Midway Elementary School almost a month ago as well as the impact the surge had on both facilities.


The power surge occurred during the third weekend in August and was the result of a wreck that took down a utility pole that serves both the high school and elementary school.


At that time, Anthony Vann, executive director of auxiliary services, explained to school board members that the lack of power burned some electrical components while the surge of power caused other components to explode. In addition to smoke filling the building, the high school lost about 200 light ballasts, its scoreboard in the gym, a freezer in the cafeteria, two waste-water pumps, pumps for the school’s greenhouses, four 30 horse-power motor drives, and two 75 horse-power motor drives which cool the air that moves through the school.


Tuesday morning, Vann informed the school board that the power at the high school is three-phase power but that during the time of the interruption it was only operating at single-phase.


Although safety devices were in place to shut the power off in the case of such a surge, Vann acknowledged that many of the experts he has been in talks with are “still scratching their heads as to why the motors didn’t shut down as they were designed to do.”


In discussing the event with Duke Energy, it was confirmed that “the main switch gear did not switch off,” said Vann. “What they recommend is putting a phase monitor on.”


He explained that this type of monitor is “not code regulated; it’s just an extra” and pointed out that most school facilities do not have one.


However, the experts have suggested it, and not only for Midway High School,Vann continued. “They say that eight schools in the county would benefit from it.”


If the board were to choose to take this suggestion, each of the monitoring devices would run around $5,000 alone, noted Vann. “It would be approximately $8,000 to $10,000 per school.”


School board members made no decision concerning the recommendation. In the meantime, Vann informed members that the power to Midway High School would be shut down Tuesday afternoon to allow for more inspections into the surge problem.


Vann explained that the inspections would involve removing the covers of all the switch gears and checking all the connections. An infrared test was also scheduled to be done to check for hot spots.


Based on preliminary inspections, Vann shared that “there were several of the safety devices on the front end that were destroyed.”


“Is it designed to be destroyed,” asked board chairman Telfair Simpson.


“Yes, but normally power blips are in a second or nanosecond…This one went on for minutes,” replied Vann, indicating that although that aspect of the device worked, it didn’t succeed in shutting off all the power and therefore the surge was allowed to continue.


“They don’t understand why the main gear didn’t flip, why it didn’t pop out,” he added.


According to Vann, the county school system has “encumbered about $255,000 as of yesterday which is kind of what we expected.”


Interim superintendent Mike Warren injected that $30,000 of that total amount was used at Midway Elementary School.


Unfortunately, Vann added, more damaged items — and therefore more expenses — could show up in the coming months as a result of the surge and it weakening other components.


Although the necessary information has been sent to the two insurance companies involved, Vann indicated to the board that no party involved was accepting responsibility yet.


“It’s somebody’s fault and it’s not Sampson County Schools,” said Simpson, suggesting that photos be taken during the inspections at the high school Tuesday afternoon.


According to Vann, an impartial third party consultant advised the school system on “several items we need to take pictures of and ask questions about.”


When board member Glenn Tart asked about the need for legal representation in dealing with the matter, both Vann and the interim superintendent agreed that the time had come to pursue that.


“We’re at the point now where it’s like that circle and everybody is just pointing fingers at each other,” described Warren.


Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at lwilliams@civitasmedia.com.