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High school to remove gas lines in renovation project

December 15, 2019

Even though the warrant article itself does not apply to public buildings, including the high school’s renovation project, the movement surrounding the legislation has inspired administrators to advocate for the electrification of both the STEM wing and the new Cypress building. Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser said that when he heard about the movement, he first thought about the future of chemistry labs which often rely on gas-powered Bunsen burners, but soon shifted his perspective on the problem.

GRAPHIC BY ARYN LEE
Electric burners (left) will be used in science labs following the renovation, allowing for removal of gas lines for traditional Bunsen burners (right).

“My first thoughts were, ‘how would we do our labs,’ because that would be a big change in what we do,” Wiser said. “But then I thought, ‘let’s challenge that assumption that we need gas to do these labs.’ So we looked into electric alternatives and found quite a few.”

Through intensive research, Wiser was able to find a University of Massachusetts Amherst website that suggested electric burners as an alternative.

“Once I learned that these Bunsen burner alternatives existed, I tried to find them, and I reached out to a new vendor and they got me a sample,” Wiser said. “I got to try it out over the summer, and it worked great, so I went ahead and told the architects to feel free to remove the gas lines from all of the chemistry and biology rooms, so there won’t be any new gas lines.”

The updated plans will remove gas lines in the upper floors of the STEM wing as well as in the new Cypress building. Gas lines will remain on the first floor for the new Culinary Arts rooms and boilers will remain for heating, but all gas for lab purposes will be replaced with electricity. Once the renovation is completed, existing gas lines in the current science hallway will be cut off.

All of the chemistry teachers got a chance to experiment with the electric burners. Chemistry teacher Shawn Rock said that although it is not a perfect substitution, the new burners should be able to replace the gas ones.

“There are going to be some things that we’ll have to do differently,” Rock said. We’re going to have to fiddle around with the way things are done, but I think, like anything else, there might be a couple hiccups the first time, but after that, it’ll work out just fine.”

According to Wiser, a leak in a chemistry lab many years ago alerted him to the dangers of having gas lines in the building, dangers that the renovation will solve.

“We had an incident with gas leaking in the building, and the building had to be evacuated. Someone had left a valve on by simple accident, and it was a big, big risk,” Wiser said. “Now are there dangers with electricity? Sure. But they’re much easier to control, and they’re not at the level of risk gas leaks are.”

The movement around the warrant article gave Wiser the idea to investigate converting to electricity, which Wiser said he would not have thought of on his own.

“The warrant article and the discussion about it definitely inspired us all to think about what those alternatives might be,” Wiser said. “It was not something that we thought of, and I think that’s the thing that’s most inspirational about the warrant article.”

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