Lynn School Committee discusses the Pickering Middle School’s heating problems

LYNN — A heating issue at Pickering Middle School became the primary topic of discussion in the first Lynn Public School Committee meeting of the year, and the first for Mayor Thomas McGee and newly-elected members Brian Castellanos and Michael Satterwhite.

Chief of Inspectional Services Michael Donovan was brought in to speak about possible solutions after recent complaints about the malfunctioning heating systems. In one incident, a student at the school suffered burns after coming into contact with one of the school’s radiators.

Donovan said keeping kids away from the hot radiators is more of an education problem than anything else.

“Students have to know [radiators] are hot as much as they would know a stove is hot in their home,” he said. “Radiators by design are very hot, it’s a hazard, no question. But people just have to stay away from them.”

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said radiators in the school are marked with a bright orange sign that says “Danger Hot” in two languages.

Several members asked Donovan about the possibility of equipping the radiators with covers to prevent the dangers.

Donovan said a metal cover would only become hot itself and plastic and wooden covers would only restrict the heat given off in a school that is already considered, by many complaints, to be under-heated.

For now it seems as though the signs and urging students to steer clear of the radiators is the best possible solution, he said.

Donovan said the school functions on a vacuum return heating system, installed in 1953, powered by boilers that pump steam through pipes and into radiators.

This system failed before the recent cold spell that struck New England, but was repaired in time to meet state heating requirements. But the system is still inadequate, he said.

“This system has not worked as designed in over a decade,” Donovan said.

Under the old system, individual room temperatures cannot be adjusted, leading to some rooms being overheated and some not being heated enough, Donovan explained.

There is nothing that can be done other than installing a new system that could cost millions, according to Latham and Donovan.

McGee, who serves as School Committee chairman, acknowledged problems like these speak to the need Lynn has had for new school buildings.

“These issues speak to a growing problem,” he said. “It’s important for people to understand the real need so there can be an opportunity for our children to be in a comfortable building.”

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