I was passing through Houston the other day and picked up a copy of the Houston Chronicle. While I was at the airport, waiting for my connecting flight, a couple of the stories in the first section of the paper caught my eye.

One dealt with a proposed school bond proposal, which would include remodeling existing school buildings, including adding A/C. The other explained how NASA astronauts were working on repairs to HVAC equipment in the international space station. I thought to myself, “Here are two great examples of the importance of our trade — one on the ground and one miles up in space.”

CLASSROOM MATH

The first story centered on the $808 million bond proposal for renovation and improvements to many of the Houston public school facilities. School district officials wanted to give voters a chance to understand where the money would go and how it would affect a typical classroom before the proposal went to a vote on Nov. 5. The Chronicle used Room 109 of the Wilson Elementary School as an example. The story listed 17 improvements, which totaled $24,274. Some of the items included smaller expenses like installing coat hooks ($18) and replacing the carpet ($1,741). The greatest expense was constructing a classroom restroom ($5,176). The price tag for replacing the air conditioning and heating system was number two on the list at $4,579.

It wasn’t just the inclusion of a new HVAC system and the associated cost that struck me; it was the psychological importance of the improvements. Anyone who has sat in a classroom without A/C on a hot spring day knows what I am talking about. In warmer climates like the Houston area, it seems unthinkable to me that students and faculty would be subjected to unconditioned air.

The school district emphasized that not all improvements would be made for every room, depending on the room’s size and condition. Wilson Elementary is slated to get energy-efficient light fixtures, an upgraded electrical system, and new pipes for the HVAC system — all discretionary improvements granted to Wilson as well as to other schools.

“These are the kind of improvements that will make life as a teacher much easier,” Phillips told the Chronicle.

COOLING THE SPACE STATION

An Associated Press story appearing in the Chronicle reported that “spacewalking astronauts worked on the outdoor plumbing of the international space station, hooking up new air conditioning lines and installing clamps to prevent pressure buildups.”

Astronauts David Wolf and Piers Sellers, visiting from the shuttle Atlantis, encountered stiff joints in some of the station’s older pipes, which contained ammonia coolant. They pried open the joints and installed specially designed pressure-relief clamps. NASA designed the clamps after ground tests revealed that there could be a pressure problem in the ammonia lines of a new $390 million girder. A total of 100 clamps will be installed over three shuttle visits.

In addition to installing 30 clamps during the space walk, the two astronauts connected cooling system lines for the 14-ton girder, which has three radiators and two ammonia tanks.

These are two stories that did not grab national news, although one had global ramifications. Yet they underscored the importance of our HVACR systems, here on earth and up in space.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); johnhall@achrnews.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/21/2002