Craig High noise vexing neighbors

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Saturday, September 25, 2010
— You might call it a design flaw, or an innocent error.

Either way, it’ll cost the Janesville School District cash to correct it.

The problem is noise from air-handling equipment at Craig High School. The equipment was installed as part of a recent multimillion-dollar renovation/expansion project.

The noise is no problem for students or teachers. It’s the neighbors who are being pestered from the roar and hum of a system that keeps Craig cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Neighbors first complained 13 months ago. Sound-dampening equipment was installed but did not solve the problem.

The issue came to light at a school board committee meeting this week at Craig.

The committee voted to recommend to the full board that the district do something. The committee did not specify a solution.

Neighbor Shelly Schroeder, whose house is closest to Craig, told the committee the noise intensity varies, but she can hear it 90 percent of the time, day or night—sometimes even with windows closed.

“At times it is outrageously loud,” Schroeder said. “People come over and say, ‘What is that noise?’”

So, who’s to blame?

Jerry Tinberg of North American Mechanical, the contractor that installed the equipment, said the architect laid out the location.

“I would venture to say this would be a clear oversight—they didn’t think of it at all,” said school board member Greg Ardrey, who also is an engineer.

The city has no decibel limit, so the school is not violating local ordinances, according to a memo from Steve Eichman, manager of transportation, purchasing and custodial services for the school district.

Eichman said neighbors have asked that the noise be eliminated, but officials believe there is no way to do that completely.

“This is a mechanical system. There will never be zero noise,” Tinberg said.

“While I believe there is merit in doing ‘the right thing,’ there are limits as to what the district is able to do to eliminate all neighbors’ concerns,” Eichman wrote.

The sound apparently has several sources: the air conditioning fan and motor, the nighttime ice-making process that is part of the A/C and air intake for boilers inside the building.

The equipment that makes the noise is located in an L-shaped alcove, with high brick walls on two sides of the “L.” Those surfaces seem to focus the sound directly toward the houses whose backyards face Craig’s north-side athletics fields.

Among the potential solutions is the installation of sound-absorbing panels on the school walls. Eichman’s memo says the panels probably wouldn’t do enough to satisfy neighbors. He recommends building a sound-absorbing wall.

The district received a quote on an acoustic barrier wall that is 60 feet long and 24 feet high. Cost: $143,000.

District CFO Keith Pennington suggested there might be cheaper alternatives, which he intended to investigate.

Moving the noisy equipment would be “tremendously expensive,” Tinberg said.

The full school board will take up the matter at its Oct. 28 meeting.

Last updated: 2:52 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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