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A veteran's college was forced to shut down. It blames air pollution from a city of Dallas site

Executives from a veterans college in North Dallas say dust and pollution from a city tree grinding operation caused two of the college's HVAC units to "burn out." Now its suing the city.
Medisend College
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Medisend
Executives from a veterans college in North Dallas say dust and pollution from a city tree grinding operation caused two of the college's HVAC units to "burn out." Now its suing the city.

A North Dallas college that helps military veterans transition into careers in the medical industry was forced to shut down unexpectedly, leaving its students’ certifications in limbo. The college's executives say air pollution from a nearby city of Dallas operation clogged the facility’s air conditioner system, forcing the shutdown.

Now the college is suing the city to get the operation shut down. A Monday hearing was postponed twice by a Dallas County judge in order to allow the City Attorney's Office more time to research the case — and possibly come to an agreement with the college.

City officials designated 12000 Greenville Ave in North Dallas as a “temporary debris storage and reduction” area after massive storms hit the city in late-May.

The Medisend College of Biomedical Engineering Technology teaches its cohort of military veterans to operate medical instruments — like an MRI machine — at a facility next to the city’s debris area.

The college’s executives told KERA sawdust from the grinding, backhoeing and conveyor pumping caused two of the facility’s air conditioning units to “burn out.”

“For health purposes of my staff and my faulty and the students, we shut it down, because wood…dust is bad to inhale,” Nick Hallack, Medisend's founder, president and CEO told KERA. “Second of all, in 110 degree weather we couldn’t keep our air conditioners going.”

KERA reached out to the city for comment on Medisend's claims, the debris site, how the city mitigates dust pollution in this situation and who enforces local environmental regulations for the site.

"Due to pending litigation, we have no comment," Brenda Saldaña, a public information officer, told KERA in an email.

Hallack spoke with KERA from Italy and said he was not at Medisend’s facility at the time of the interview.

Pictures from the facility shared with KERA show large piles of branches and other debris, along with heavy industrial equipment, standing muddy water on Medisend’s roof and an HVAC filter clogged with brown dust.

As a result, Medisend put its program on hold while it figures out how to fix the system. But while the college tries to come up with the funds to make the repairs — time is running out for its current cohort.

“If we lose a week…its equivalent to an entire semester at another college,” Hallack said. “We train in cohorts so they start at the same time, they finish at the same time.”

One example is Medisend’s x-ray course. Hallack says that program is eight hours a day, five days a week — for two weeks.

“That’s it,” Hallack said. “That course doesn’t come again for four months.”

Hallack said the school may not be able to bring in the next 12-person cohort because of the HVAC system failures.

“We risk…losing an entire associate degree with two cohorts,” Hallack said. “And we risk not being able to bring in 12 U.S. military veterans who have already signed enrollment agreements, have already got…their living arrangements to come in in two weeks.”

And if the students don’t ultimately finish the program — Medisend may owe federal funds back to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Attorneys from Clark Hill, the law firm representing Medisend, filed a petition for a temporary restraining order against the city for the grinding operation.

“The city has wholly failed to comply with Texas law and is causing dust and dirt pollution to physically enter [Medisend’s] property,” the college’s petition said.

“Without air conditioning in the Texas Summer heat, along with contamination of sensitive medical equipment, Plaintiff has been forced to cancel classes, and will likely cancel the August and September classes,” the petition continued.

Hallack says the city doesn’t have a license to operate the tree grinding site — and says it’s not following all the rules.

“They’re supposed to apparently have big water trucks down there to reduce the plumes of wood pulp and wood dust…which they don’t,” Hallack said.

Medisend executives don’t know the extent of the damage — but it could be pricey to fix. That goes for the HVAC system — and the college’s medical equipment.

“It’s very expensive equipment,” Hallack said. “Maybe four or five million dollars’ worth of…new hospital grade equipment.”

Hallack said dust had been circulating in the college’s air system for a week before one of the engines burnt out. The school shut down the entire air conditioning system for fear of further contamination, according to Hallack.

Medisend’s lawyers hope a Dallas judge will grant them a temporary retraining order while the court decide whether the city should shut the operation down completely.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.