By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
Carbon monoxide detectors may be coming to a school near you.
State Sen. Jim Hughes has introduced S.B. 162 that would require any school — public or private school — to install carbon monoxide detectors in every building. It would also require the state fire marshal and Board of Building Standard to write rules for the location, product and installation standards, and conduct periodic inspections of the devices.
Hughes said the periodic inspections could be done in conjunction with other regularly scheduled inspections of the schools so there would be little or no additional cost for the inspection requirement.
And at an average price of $40 for a detector, it would, he said, “make our schools safer at a small financial cost.”
But local school districts might debate Hughes’ definition of “small.”
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, invisible gas — often called a silent killer because it can’t be smelled or seen — and can kill at elevated levels.
In general, most commercial CO detectors cover between 5,000-7,000 square feet, or a 40-50 foot radius from the unit, though each enclosed room requires its own unit.
For residential areas, the National Fire Protection Association recommends one in a central location outside each sleeping area and one on every level of the home.
Nancy Crandell, communications director for Sylvania City Schools, said if the requirement is put in place, the large suburban school district will need about 700 CO units — 500 for the classrooms and another 200 or so for open spaces and office areas.
That would cost $28,000, if Hughes’ average cost is accurate. While that might not seem like much considering the district’s overall budget, it’s the equivalent of at least one employee for a year, Crandell said.
“This would be a very large undertaking that’s continuous,” she said. “It would be an additional yearly process” that would require stocking batteries to power the units.
And that’s just if they purchase the individual battery-operated devices Hughes referenced. Hughes cost estimates did not include the cost of batteries to maintain the units.
Jacqueline Bryant, communications manager at Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest district, said their district has 114 school buildings and approximately 2,000 classrooms.
If they purchased the detectors Hughes referenced, it would cost them roughly $80,000, but probably more since her figures did not included office spaces or gymnasiums and auditoriums.
Since the number and location of the detectors would be decided by two government agencies, it is unknown how many detectors each school building would be required to install.
Commercial units that link multiple sensors to a single control panel for monitoring in a centralized office are available, but such systems are much more expensive and probably would require competitive bidding by the school districts. Several companies told Ohio Watchdog that installing such a system would cost in the ballpark of $500 to $1,000 per sensor, depending on the construction of the building and the sophistication of the monitoring system.
Bryant said she did not think the requirement, if passed, would apply to the Columbus schools, especially since they already have carbon monoxide detectors in their boiler rooms.
The state’s building and fire codes don’t normally apply retroactively, but S.B. 162 will apply to all existing buildings, an analysis of the bill by the Legislative Services Commission says.
During sponsor testimony, Hughes said he knew of six eastern states with similar requirements based on input from constituents who suggested the bill.
S.B. 162 is pending in the Senate’s Public Safety, Local Government & Veteran Affairs Committee.