PARKERSBURG - Sub-zero temperatures wreaked havoc with the vehicles and facilities of the Wood County Schools, forcing the system to remain closed Wednesday.
Officials announced Tuesday Edison Middle School would be closed due to heating issues and that other schools would be placed on a two-hour delay. Shortly after the announcement officials decided to close all schools.
Mike Fling, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said the move became necessary after bitterly cold temperatures caused 60 percent of the school system's bus fleet to malfunction.
Wood County school buses sit outside of the 19th Street garage in Parkersburg Wednesday. Bitterly cold temperatures caused 60 percent of the school system’s bus fleet to malfunction. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
"Wood County Schools utilizes bio-diesel, and it is much more susceptible to temperature changes," Fling said. The bio-diesel is made from a combination of vegetable oil and diesel fuel, which burns much cleaner than regular diesel and is more environmentally friendly.
In addition to batteries drained by the extreme cold, Fling said the bio-diesel would thicken, causing the bus engines to stall.
"It doesn't freeze. It gels," Fling said. "It turns to jelly. It won't flow."
When officials were able to get the buses running, "they would run for about 15-20 minutes and then just stop," he said. "What we didn't want to have happen was a bus running its route, picking up kids and then getting stuck somewhere in negative temperatures."
At Edison, Fling said a heating unit ruptured, sending about 500 gallons of water into a hallway.
"It has a coil that heats the water, like a radiator," Fling said. "It was a major cleanup. It was so cold outside, you couldn't just open the doors and sweep the water out."
To make matters worse, when maintenance workers shut off the water to prevent more from spilling out, it cut off the water flow to several outside units.
"Once the water stopped flowing, the next four units froze up," Fling said. "They're on an outside wall and have to use outside air. We were just pulling in too much cold air."
Fling said the school system called in several outside companies to help with the repairs, but due to the age of the heating units some parts had to be special ordered. Crews were still working Wednesday afternoon to make sure heat had been restored to the entire building.
"Right now it is a patch job, and will be a bigger repair down the line," Fling said.
Edison wasn't the only school with heating issues. Fling said the extreme cold taxed heating units at Jefferson, Kanawha, Vienna and Williamstown elementary schools, as well as Williamstown High School.
"They're running, but those will be more of a long-term repair situation," he said. "We got them repaired enough to get the schools open."
Temperatures today are expected to remain below freezing, but be much more manageable than the single-digit and below-zero temperatures the area had experienced in recent days.
"We can work with that," Fling said. "We are in a much better situation with 30 degrees than we were in negative-30 windchill temperatures."
All schools were expected to be open today and all buses up and running their normal routes.
"I'm proud of our people," Fling said. "They picked it up and worked extra hard over the past couple of days. We're thankful it wasn't worse than it was."