Thirteen D.C. public schools may be unheated this month because school officials ordered the wrong fuel oil for the newly converted heating systems at the schools.
Now school officials are looking for storage space for 43,282 gallons of heavy oil so they can fill fuel tanks with the correct fuel, a lighter oil.
Also, in at least one school, the heating conversion has been stalled because of the school system's attempt to remove asbestos from 165 schools, which has encountered its own delay.
"There was a breakdown in coordination," said Andrew Weeks, director of the D.C. Schools' Division of Buildings and Grounds, explaining how the fuel tanks in many of the 43 schools slated for boiler conversions mistakenly were filled with heavy No. 6 fuel oil last spring. "No one put a stop to orders for the old oil."
Only 16 of the 43 boiler conversions have been completed, Weeks said. The conversions are required to enable the school buildings to meet federal air quality standards.
After a boiler has been converted, its new burner is incompatible with the heavier oil. Oil has been shifted and replaced in a few buildings, but Weeks estimated that 13 may be without the proper fuel by next week, when heat is expected to be turned on.
"It's a slow process," Weeks said of the search for storage tanks. "We're keeping our fingers crossed on the weather."
Weeks said he is checking with engineers to see if lines are in place that would allow the converted boilers to use gas if meters could be installed quickly. As a last resort, students at schools with no heat would be moved into other schools, he said.
In at least one school, the boiler conversion program has run into the squabble over removing asbestos. The heating conversion at the Sharp Health School, 4300 13th St. NW, was postponed this summer while a contractor was removing asbestos from that school and two others. The asbestos project was stopped Aug. 20 under an order issued by D.C. Superior Court Judge Paul R. Webber III, Weeks said.
Under the court order, the work has been halted until asbestos firms being sued by the school system can inspect the schools. The order had been sought by Owens-Corning, Johns Manville and other asbestos companies named in the suit. The school system alleges that the firms supplied a cancer-causing material known to be a health hazard.
Weeks said that the asbestos firms also have questioned whether the schools' boiler conversion project should continue.
"The defendants suspect that in this air quality process we're removing asbestos without informing them," Weeks said.
But Harold Henson of the D.C. Department of Public Works, which let the conversion contracts, said the three contractors working on boiler conversions have not encountered asbestos except in the Sharp Health School.
"We're replacing the burners," Henson said. "We're not touching the pipes, which everyone knows are wrapped in asbestos."
Weeks said the delay in the asbestos removal program poses no hazard to students or school employes because "we do not have any unstable asbestos in our schools."
Weeks said it will take three years to remove all asbestos from city schools. The more immediate problem, he said, is finding storage for the heavy oil.
"We're looking every day for agencies with space in their tanks," he said. "It just seems that everyone got their tank topped off last year in preparation for the cold that's about to be upon us."