Transformer failure in 300s building causes heating problems


Temporary transformer placed in 300s building area (Sabrina Huang)

Staff Writer
The transformer currently located in the 300s building suffered critical damage at the end of December, causing numerous problems throughout UHS’s heating and cooling system. Though the cause of this outage is not known for sure, a sudden power surge through the system is the most probable reason behind the malfunction.
Currently, a temporary transformer has been situated in the 300s building in replacement of the one broken. The possible date for completion of the new transformer is not known.
According to Mr. Raul Manriquez (staff), the power surge was caused by recent work done by the electrical company Edison. “[During winter break], Edison came to remodernize our electrical system here,” Manriquez said. “[However], after start up, there was a big power surge going into our…forty year transformers and one of them went out, [causing] a big power surge [throughout the heating and cooling network on campus].”
The sudden power surge and subsequent surges consequently caused a fault in the network of wires located beneath the school, causing the connected system of modules to malfunction. This system is currently an integral and essential part to the operability of the Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling (HVAC) system on campus.
“The [modules are] just low-voltage modules that feed all the information from the HVAC units to the modules to the District’s computers,” Manriquez said. “You can make the unit do anything you want from the computer system through those modules. [However these] low voltage [modules] didn’t get low voltage [but instead a power surge that] caused them to go haywire.”
Though the HVAC system was recently replaced this past summer, the modules on the actual units were not. As a result of this surge, classrooms across the school were left with temperatures ranging from cold to hot, which were picked up by students. 
“I just remember that classrooms [were] really stuffy and it was especially obvious because the weather was so cold and when you walked in, you get overwhelmed by hot air,” Marina Chang (So.) said.
To repair the HVAC system, the Irvine Unified School District recently installed new modules on the actual units.  Outside contractors were also brought in to install a cable wire atop the 200s and 300s building in order to account for the broken ground wire disrupting the network system on campus.
Transformers on campus are currently located in each quad area and near the administration office. Currently, their main purpose is to power the HVAC system and to decrease the voltage of incoming electricity.  
“The transformers are to generate the power to have the correct power in each classroom,” Manriquez said. “When one of those transformers get a thousand volts to one building, the transformer transforms it into forty volts. Then it transforms it to another lesser voltage to your classroom.”
Though a temporary transformer is currently being used, the District is working to build a new transformer for the 300s building. According to Manriquez, this process is not easy because the transformer needs to be converted into a new digitalized system.
“It’s a long process because since [the transformer was] like forty years old, [the District is] converting us to a new system for that transformer,” Manriquez said. “And of course they’re only going to do that one because we’re talking about big bucks here. Those are like 70,000 dollars [apiece].”
However, because the new transformer will be built from the same basic units of the broken transformer, the new facility will only cost about $40,000, a saving of nearly $30,000 from the estimated price. But this replacement also forces the District to consider replacing all of the transformers on campus. The system of transformers currently was not replaced since the start of the school.
“As far as I know now, that’s the [broken transformer is the only one] that they’re going to replace,” Assistant Principal Kris Kough (admin) said. “Those other transformers could go for another ten years before they break so you have to weigh the risk of do we hang on and continue to use these until they break or do we just replace all of them now.”
Currently the District still needs to decide on the budget allocated for this project and the number of transformers that should be replaced. Though the possible date for completion of the new transformer is currently not known, it most likely will be completed before the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
As of this moment, the HVAC system and the system of transformers are functioning properly. For students, these reparations were welcome.  
“I’m really grateful for [the recent reparations] because it’s a lot more comfortable and it’s a lot easier to breathe,” Chang said.