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Nearly 400 students cycle in and out of the Chelsea High School weight room every day. With a physical education program focusing on strength and conditioning, the Michigan school wanted to create an auxiliary gym and state-of-the-art weight room that would further promote health and wellness and provide a safe, clean space that students can use for many years. To accomplish these goals, school officials knew 405nm lighting would play an essential role.
“We desperately needed more gym space and more equipment,” says Brad Bush, athletic director and assistant principal at Chelsea High School. “We went through passing a new bond, and one of our big priorities was to increase our space for our project. We spent a number of years visiting as many different facilities, high schools and colleges as we could in an effort to develop what we think would be a premier weight room for our students.”
The school received board approval for a new weight room and auxiliary gym in 2019 and broke ground in late 2020. The 6,500-square-foot gym can hold 750 spectators, one main court and two side courts that connect to the weight room. It also has office and storage space.
Fortunately, student learning was not disrupted during the construction and renovation process because the space is an addition to the existing building.
“When the school was designed, that space was designed for an addition, whether it be a gym or a pool,” Bush says. “We had enough space there that we were able to put that in. There certainly was a lot of excavation costs associated, but we didn't have to reroute traffic and that type of thing, which really was helpful.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials already had concerns about preventing the spread of germs and bacteria because of the weight room’s level of use and how easily infections can spread. The school district set its sights on 405nm lighting to help eliminate the spread of infections among students and staff. The germicidal lighting appears white while the space is occupied and switches automatically to indigo when it is empty, allowing for continuous whole-room disinfection to kill harmful pathogens, including staph, MRSA and COVID-19.
Along with recommendations from the architects, the school district relied heavily on the opinions of the staff members who would occupy the space. Gym teachers and coaches worked with the architects to choose everything from the flooring to the workout equipment. This goal of this teamwork was to create a functional workout space that appeals to students.
“We had to make some decisions and cuts and changes, but we were very involved, and I think that’s really important,” Bush says. “No matter when you build anything, if you give the people living in that space the freedom to do the research, you’re able to come up with good end results. It was one of the highlights of my career to be able to be that integrally involved in how we designed it and built it. I really owe a debt to our superintendent that she allowed that to happen.”
In the year since the project was completed, Chelsea High School officials have continued to prioritize infection control. A custodial crew is assigned to the weight room to sanitize equipment, but students are also encouraged to wipe down machines after each use and practice proper hygiene methods in between workout sessions, says Ron Mills, director of operations for the school district. The 405nm lighting also helps disinfect the space when it is not occupied. To date, the school has not had any outbreaks stemming from the weight room due to the disinfection protocols.
“The regular lights go off, and those (405nm lights) automatically come on when the space is not occupied,” Mills says. “As soon as somebody trips the motion sensors when they come in, those lights automatically turn off, and the regular lights come on. So as long as they're able to stay on through the night and do their job, we're definitely seeing the benefits from those.”
Lighting disinfection technology has made strides over the last few years. Several 405nm light disinfection technology approaches and commercially available products are designed to treat both air and surfaces. 405nm lighting systems have become cost-effective solutions that meet real-world budgets.
“I believe it's been worth the cost because of the that whole space has LED lighting, which is obviously is a lot less expensive to run than regular conventional fluorescent lighting, so that that whole addition to the high school has helped reduce our costs,” Mills says. “The rest of the high school will have interior LED lights installed this summer along with those 405nm luminaries in the wrestling room. So, we should see over the next year or so, our energy cost cut significantly.”
School officials were able to complete the lighting upgrade with minimal disruption to school activities and operations, but they did face a challenge related to the timing of the sensors. They addressed the problem by having a controls company on hand in case something went wrong.
“I think it’s met the overall goal so far,” Mills says. “Initially, we had some issues with the timing of the sensors, but we had our controls company come in and make the necessary adjustments. Once we got that fixed and the timing and scheduling figured out correctly, (the 405nm lighting has) been working properly the way they should.”
After seeing the benefits over the last year and a half, Chelsea School District officials are scheduling more 405nm lighting installation projects this summer. The high school’s wrestling room will be equipped with the same luminaires, helping prevent potential skin infections that are commonly found on mats and other work out equipment.
“With these types of things, you get out what you put into it,” Bush says. “In this case, we did a ton of research on it (405nm lights) on the front end, which enabled us to have great results on the back end. I think overall for Chelsea High School, it's proven to be a worthwhile expense that we incurred and put in for the benefit of our students.”
Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor of the facilities market.