Cash-strapped Michigan school system uses 1980s home computer to control heating for entire district
Officials in one Michigan school system are hoping that a 30-year-old home computer that controls heating and air conditioning for all 19 of their schools will finally be upgraded if residents decide to pass a $175 million bond proposal.
Grand Rapids Public Schools Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins told WOOD-TV that the district used the money from an energy bond in the 1980s to purchase a Commodore Amiga, which has been tasked with controlling the heat and air conditioners ever since. The computer it replaced was “about the size of a refrigerator,” he said.
“The system controls the start/stop of boilers, the start/stop of fans, pumps, [it] monitors space temperatures, and so on,” the maintenance supervisor noted.
Hopkins explained that the computer operated on a 1200-baud modem, and it sometimes interfered with the walkie-talkies used by his maintenance workers.
“Because they share the same frequency as our maintenance communications radios and operations maintenance radios — it depends on what we’re doing — yes, they do interfere,” he pointed out, adding that “we have to clear the radio and get everyone off of it for up to 15 minutes” when that happens.
The district said that it has not been able to afford the $1.5 to 2 million cost of a new system. But the computer is system is on the list if a $175 million bond proposal passes in November.
“There’s a lot of projects, a lot of needs in the district, so there’s other priorities we have to put in place ahead of this,” Hopkins said. “This system is still running.”
In the video below, district officials explain the bond proposal.