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Windows debate has dualing points of view

AS IF YOU ASKED

Let’s not be surprised if our kids tell us the school board wants

them to campaign for incumbent board members, calling it required

homework. That hyperbole might not seem so wild to those who recently

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saw the board use its own dais for a campaign stunt posing as a staff

report, a feeble show calculated to refute criticism incumbents face

from challengers.

The topic is installing “dual pane” windows in new or remodeled

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schools. They’re made from two sheets of glass separated by a space

that is either a vacuum or filled with an inert gas. City

conservation experts, teachers and others have roasted the district

for not using the energy-saving products. Especially with some rooms

in Burbank High School sweltering despite new air-conditioning

equipment, and with soaring electric bills named as one unexpected

cost crippling district budgets, candidates have criticized the

board’s decision to use windows less efficient than dual-panes.

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Last year, when city utility executives lectured that dual-panes

save more money in use than their extra cost, board members said they

didn’t have the cash up front, and future savings couldn’t fill

today’s coffers. But that logic has been dumped. Now we’re told the

board did the “smart” thing in the first place.

At its last meeting, the board received a staff report titled

“Dual Glazed Windows.” It was the sort of report for detailed

discussion, but no action, usually saved for nontelevised meetings.

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Last summer’s session with the board reviewing budget cuts warranted

the off-camera “study” atmosphere, but the window report merited TV

coverage.

The presentation from Ali Kiafar, BUSD’s superintendent of

facilities, included testimony from two men, one a district employee,

another from a firm the district hired. Hold your hats when you hear

the bomb the trio dropped. They said they did exactly the right thing

by not installing more dual-pane windows!

Kiafar said one of the district’s architects never uses dual pane

in schools, and that another, the team that designed John Burroughs

High School, also never used them, “until very recently on a couple

of projects that wanted to do that.” I suppose that’s the same as

“The firm never uses dual-pane.”

Kiafar didn’t rest. Reaching across a galaxy of sources for

independent information from utilities, the federal government,

universities -- perhaps even window manufacturers -- Kiafar called to

the microphone one of his own staff, Mohammad Kashani-Jou, and an

architect from the previously mentioned firm. To the shock and

surprise of no one, both repeated opinions Kiafar attributed to them.

And that was the staff’s report on windows.

The architect, John Thomas, offered a harsh assessment of

dual-pane technology. “It is guaranteed to fail within 15 years,”

Thomas said. A failure means the seal between the two panes leaks,

usually requiring replacement. Moments later, Thomas was asked about

dual-pane warranties. “I’m not that familiar with the warranties on

them because we don’t use the product,” Thomas said.

Got that? He told the board a product is guaranteed to fail and

require replacement, but couldn’t answer a question integral to

determining the cost of such a failure because he doesn’t use and

didn’t know enough about the product.

Thomas guessed dual-pane warranties last 10 or 15 years, but added

he’s “heard of” lifetime warranties. He prefaced his opinion the

warranties rely on homes changing hands by smirking and saying, “My

guess on where those come from ... " A guess was fine with the board,

though how it related to a warranty on district windows wasn’t

explained. Indeed, the standard warranty on single-pane windows the

district did buy is 10 years, just what Thomas said devious dual-pane

makers offer. But the BUSD paid for an upgraded “lifetime” warranty

guaranteeing windows “free of defects in materials and workmanship

that significantly impair their operation,” loaded terms like the

dual-pane warranty Thomas mocked.

It took me only minutes to find dual-pane manufacturers offering a

40-year warranty standard with their product, and others offering

standard lifetime warranties. Further, the Insulating Glass

Certification Council has data reflecting 20 years of failure-free

use of dual-pane windows, and city building officials say the IGCC

told them some manufacturers have data indicating a 50-year life

span.

Even if the atrocious failure rate were true, and if the

warranties were bogus, studies done in California climates by San

Diego Gas and Electric, and others, found dual-pane windows can repay

their cost in as little as five years. Kiafar didn’t even pretend to

solicit opinions from that side. He testified he’s done a great job,

and that suited the board just fine.

Incumbents Mike McDonald and Elena Hubbell led the questions,

eager to arm themselves for candidate forums. They effectively asked

staff to restate everything, ignoring obvious gaps. For example, with

20 minutes spent ridiculing dual-pane warranties, not one of the

geniuses thought to ask what the warranty term is for windows the

district did buy. I did that myself days later. The report didn’t

include even one calculation of energy savings vs. cost to illustrate

the supposed folly, and no board member cared.

Board member Trish Burnett weighed the report and said, “Somebody

told me [the city] didn’t use dual-glazed windows in the new Buena

Vista Library ... and I was thinking this would make perfect sense if

they didn’t.”

Perhaps that was the same somebody who told Burnett the L.A.

County District Attorney is wrong in opining the board violates state

public- meeting laws. Burbank Director of Public Works Bruce Feng

told me, “The Buena Vista library is completely dual-glazed.”

The board wrapped up by rejecting dual panes for a job underway at

Muir Middle School, citing costs estimated at $100,000. Hubbell noted

budget woes, and dramatically declared, “We’d need to look at where

we will cut $100,000. What are we not going to have at that school?”

Great stump speech, but it pretends Hubbell wasn’t in City Hall

on May 24, when city officials explained that Burbank’s utility is

compelled by law to set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars each

year to pay for conservation projects.

The city manager, utility director and two council members

explained in detail for Hubbell and board president Richard Raad that

adding dual-pane windows to district projects would be an ideal use

of the cash.

At this month’s meeting, Hubbell said, “What I’m hearing from you

right now tells me the plans that we’ve made are the best plans.”

Kiafar agreed with her wise insight. Hubbell then said she won’t

support using dual-pane windows, “Just because some people in the

community made an issue out of it without doing the research.”

Maybe that’s what is most horrifying. Board members think they’ve

done research. But as we’ve seen in the BUSD’s budget fiascos, when

the panel can no longer conceal evidence of errors, they need only

take the stance McDonald employs on the campaign trail: Blame staff

for providing bad information, and claim to be a victim who can’t be

held responsible.

WILL ROGERS’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He

can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or

by e-mail at will.rogers@latimes.com or at

willrogersemail@earthlink.net.


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