This afternoon, around 2:40, I was forced to flee my classroom in fear for my life. Well, that may be just a TOUCH melodramatic, but at the time, it certainly didn't seem like it.
The cause of my angst? The brand new HVAC unit in my classroom.
The 3rd grade hallway in my school is like 600 years old. We were told that there would be new units put into each classroom, which we took to be a pretty good thing, seeing as how the old units were cobbled together by drunk baby pandas in the 1950s. Mine was one of the few in the hallway that actually had an external on/off switch, which meant that when I was sweating like a pig in my classroom, I had the option of turning the unit on and then feeling it not cool the room. Sure, if you were sitting within 4 feet of the unit, you would freeze your extremities off, but beyond that, it fizzled faster than New Coke.
When the old unit operated in heating mode though, it worked a little TOO well. I couldn't have it on for more than 30 seconds without feeling like a microwaved poodle.
Of course, the central office downtown gets to decide when it's a heater day and when it's an A/C day. There were days when it was already 80 degrees in my classroom, and I turned on the HVAC unit, only to make the oven even hotter.
So we were told that the old units would be removed and replaced with new ones over Christmas break. Technically, what we were told was correct. The physical removal and replacement did occur. Clearly, the units were never run or tested until this week, though.
I came in on Monday morning to find a brand spanking new unit -- pretty nice looking on the exterior -- blowing cold air. My room was freezing. Oh, and there was a gap between the unit and the wall big enough to fit a 3rd grader into. Can't wait to see what falls down there by June. When I came back to my room in the afternoon, the hot air was blowing, and it was like a furnace. Also, it was burning up all the dust or rat turds or asbestos inside of it -- as were all of the units in the hallways -- turning the 3rd grade hall into a hazy nightmare. Thankfully, by the next day, the day the kids arrived, the haziness was gone.
Tuesday, my room was way too hot. Wednesday, my room was way too cold. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Goldilocks walk into my room today and declare it just right, but no, it was cold again. These units don't have external on/off switches. I opened up my unit and found the internal switch the first day, but I was told not to do that again.
So this brings us to today's wild panicked exodus. My class was going well. We had just read a Reader's Theater out of the book. We were mixing math and reading, discussing the fractions we had seen in the little play. Suddenly and without warning, one wall seemed to explode with a horrendous sound. It was like an elephant was right outside the classroom, hitting an extended G flat to warn its troop of danger from intruding poachers. At the same time -- and this sound lasted 15 or 20 seconds at least -- a huge cloud of white smoke billowed forth from the HVAC unit. It was like the Smoke Monster from Lost had come to attack, and it hadn't even appeared to me in the form of dead loved ones. I pray to God that it was just steam, and not some kind of toxic gas. Unless I wind up getting super powers out of it, and then it's ok.
I rushed to get the kids out of the room, but the image that remains etched into my brain is one of my little girls, wincing in terror, looking like the Statue of Liberty's head has just careened past her.
We went down to the end of the hallway to regroup, and one of my little girls started shouting another girl's name, "She's still in the room!" Not noticing that the girl she was calling was standing right behind her.
For the remainder of the day, we were out in the hallway. I had the kids go back into the room 4 at a time to get their backpacks, telling them to be in and out in under a minute. Even the boy who takes 7 minutes to get a pencil out of his backpack was able to fulfill his mission.
After the buses left and I returned to the building, I was kind of scared to return to the room. I don't think steam is supposed to have an odor, but there was a definite bad smell in my room; not from children's BO, and not from the chili I ate yesterday. There was also a bunch of fiberglass insulation that had been blown out of the unit.
My buddy, Ed U Cater, walked into the room to look at the unit. I told him he should hold his breath; advice which he ignored. He made it halfway across the room and then fell down to the floor. 99 percent of me was laughing along with the others; 1 percent of me feared I'd be writing a strange and tragic obituary tomorrow.
Before I left, I went down to the office to see if I could get some kind of assurance from the principal that this situation was under control and not going to be repeated. I was told not to worry, that the same thing had happened in one of the kindergarten rooms this week.
That doesn't reassure me. If my engine falls out of my car on the highway, I want to be told that it will be fixed and that this will never happen again. I don't want to be told not to worry because 3 other people also had their engine fall out.
I don't think there's much I can do about it (other than rant). Hopefully, this is the worst that will ever happen with this new unit.
And I can always print up T-shirts for the kids that say, "I survived the H-VAC-SPLOSION of '11!"