Techs in ‘The Hole’ keep campus cool

By Mira Scott
Contributing Writer

Photo by Eriana Ruiz
The pressure gauge of the big chiller, Brookhaven College’s main cooling unit, measures the pressure to make sure the campus buildings are adequately ventilated.

As dawn creeps over Brookhaven College, faculty and staff start to arrive at work while a group of men have already started their morning shifts in Room B100. Unlocking doors, flicking switches and pressing buttons on and off, Oscar Valdez and Sam Salmeron are two of eight men who work as Brookhaven’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, technicians.

Behind parked campus police cars, down a flight of stairs and beneath the ground-level entrance to B Building lies the door to The Hole. Four men, including Valdez and Salmeron, clock in by 6 a.m. every day. They have already checked the weather and begun setting temperatures to comfortable levels in buildings, classrooms and offices campuswide.

Salmeron said he has been an HVAC technician for Brookhaven for almost four years but has worked with the school for nine and a half. Valdez said he has worked with Brookhaven for an ongoing 23 years, making him the department’s most experienced technician.

“Being here for so long, we see all the factors that come into play while trying to cool down or heat up certain buildings,” Valdez said.

As the day begins to unfold, the starting temperature inside campus buildings are between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. However, temperatures change throughout the day due to weather, computers, campus events or students, staff and faculty changing the thermostats.

Salmeron said the most difficult building to keep cool is the S Building due to many factors.  He said the technicians must consider the sliding doors, the bookstore’s refrigerated food and beverages, the Testing Center, the TreeTop Café and offices.  He said because there is so much movement in the building, the HVAC crew make sure it is appropriately ventilated.

“The students are our No. 1 priority, then the faculty and staff,” Salmeron said. “We take care of everyone else first and ourselves last.”

But unexpected events can cause conflicts in their duties.

During the Fall 2016 semester, the X Building’s chiller malfunctioned because of a bearing break in the cooling tower. The break caused the entire building to overheat, so professors were told to cancel classes for up to a week, Salmeron said.

“The chiller is the machine that cools down the air, while the boiler helps to heat the air,” Valdez said. “X Building has one chiller, so when it stopped working, the building got warm and we had no way to cool it down.”

With 17 buildings on campus, Salmeron, said he wishes the Dallas County Community College District would give X Building its own backup chiller in case it breaks down unexpectedly again. Not only do the HVAC technicians want a backup chiller for X Building, but they also want back up chillers for the F and S buildings.

Salmeron said the district would save a lot of money if the technicians did not have to turn on the main chiller for the only two buildings operating on weekends. He said F Building is used for a Sunday class, while the Testing Center in S Building is used on Saturdays.

The Hole has two chillers: a big chiller used as the main system during the day and a small chiller used to maintain the temperature overnight.

Valdez said while the pair of chillers is still fairly new, Brookhaven has had the same two boiler machines since 1978. He said the technicians wish they could get new, up-to-date boilers because the cost to replace machine parts is expensive.

Using both of these machines and depending on the season, Salmeron said, the HVAC technicians range air temperatures across campus from 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the office or classroom.

Salmeron said The Hole has an elevator that has been broken for some time. Before it broke, the elevator was used by the technicians and delivery personnel to transport heavy or big machinery up and down B Building. Since the elevator broke, he said the technicians have to use the stairs when getting new parts for the machines. He said the cost of labor increased because the people who deliver these products must go up and down the stairs, making the job more time-consuming.

“We tend to only exist when there is a problem,” Salmeron said. “We want everyone to be relatively happy, but we also want to do it at a less costly rate.”

To save more money when a new part or a new piece of machinery is sent to the technicians, Salmeron said, The Hole will have a new chiller this summer, and the elevator will be fixed.

“We are ecstatic,” Salmeron said.

After the elevator is fixed, Salmeron said work will be a lot easier for him and the other technicians, Valdez, Ben Leung, Otilio Guerrero, Vinny Thakkar, Cherian Churanadu, Efrain Fajardo and Vincent Price, their supervisor.

Edleeca Thompson, a humanities professor who has experienced the frustrations of teaching in a hot, unventilated classroom, said: “We should applaud the maintenance people. We should be grateful of them and their skills.”

Salmeron said if there is ever an urgent problem with temperatures in a classroom or office, faculty and staff should dial extension 4795 to contact the HVAC technicians. If there is no landline or a student needs assistance, they can dial 972-860-4795 on their cellphone. Salmeron said if no one answers, to leave a voicemail stating who they are, where they are calling from, what the problem is and how they can be contacted.

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