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School IAQ Crisis? ‘Open window is not gonna cut it’


By Dan Hounsell HVAC
elementary school student standing by windows

Is the delayed opening of 10 New York City school buildings just the tip of the iceberg – namely, an emerging ventilation and filtration crisis in the nation’s K-12 schools? While maintenance and engineering managers have long known about the decrepit state of many HVAC systems, the situation is becoming critical as schools reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In New York City, fallout from the delayed openings continues, according to The Gothamist. A ventilation expert enlisted by a group of worried city school teachers believes the city’s Department of Education (DOE) is not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school buildings when students return on Sept. 21. Monona Rossol, an industrial hygienist and chemist who assesses workplace safety, says DOE school ventilation reports fail to provide specific information on proper ventilation and contends the standards that DOE inspectors follow to determine air quality are inadequate.

“Let's just get real – an open window is not gonna cut it,” she says.

Ventilation problems even led one school district to shut down a school. One of nine elementary schools in Chicopee, Mass., will remain closed until February after a study of the school’s air handling system showed there was not enough ventilation to bring back children and teachers safely and in a practical way during the coronavirus pandemic, according to MassLive.

The delays and the closing are evidence of a school maintenance trend that has been decades in the making, according to Business Insider. Research shows that air quality is a major issue in tens of thousands of schools across the United States. A June report from the Government Accountability Office estimated that 41 percent of districts nationwide, or 36,000 schools, need major upgrades to their HVAC systems. Before the pandemic, poor air quality in schools was problematic because it impeded kids' learning and lowered their test scores. Now, faulty HVAC systems are more concerning since they can facilitate the spread of the coronavirus.

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

 

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