Pandemic Funding, Initiatives Focus on Improving Air Quality in Schools
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As we continue to navigate the later stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, airborne transmission has become a top target and adapting existing buildings a key focal point. And schools are no exception.
A number of initiatives have rolled out locally, regionally, and nationally. At the federal level, the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law on March 11, 2021, included $122 billion for the ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund to help schools safely reopen and operate. The Department of Education lists air filtration, HVAC servicing and upgrades, and system inspections among the ways the funds can be used to improve IAQ in schools.
In March, the White House’s head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy emphasized the importance of ventilation, filtration, and disinfection as key tools in the fight against COVID-19.
The Biden administration’s turn toward improving ventilation comes as experts focus on new ways of managing a pandemic that continues to challenge global leaders more than two years after the virus first emerged," the Washington Post reported. “Its recommendations range from simple tactics, such as propping open doors and windows, to more complex investments to upgrade ventilation systems by installing better filters and portable cleaners, with officials urging building operators to tap funds previously made available through coronavirus stimulus packages.
At the state level, New York state recently announced the $59 million “Clean Green Schools Initiative,” designed to improve air quality in schools along with clean energy and carbon emission reduction goals. “Any HVAC projects funded under the Clean Green Schools initiative will address indoor air quality in any disadvantaged community schools, as well as high-needs areas," reported Government Technology magazine.
Still, there’s a long way to go. A recent study by the U.S. Green Building Council looked into how K-12 schools are addressing indoor air quality following the second year of the pandemic.
“It is well-accepted that measures to reduce airborne infection contribute to slowing community transmission and reducing the societal impact of COVID-19, future pandemics, and seasonal epidemics. Building engineering controls such as ventilation and filtration are effective strategies and are especially important given that widespread masking, immunization, and testing are insufficient to eliminate outbreaks,” the report stated. “However, the effective implementation of such controls in schools presents challenges related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment capabilities, building features, impressions of effectiveness, internal and external opinion, budget, and more. School districts have faced barriers to broad implementation across schools, such as diverse building stock and disparate control systems, climate, and other indoor air quality threats due to wildfires or urban pollution.”
The 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card rated the country’s schools in D+ condition, according to Energy.gov, and a June 2020 GAO report found that about half of public school districts are struggling to upgrade and maintain key building systems that ensure facilities are free of health hazards. “The GAO report found that 41% of school districts need to update or replace HVAC systems and half of schools visited by GAO had HVAC-related problems such as leakage, floor, and ceiling damage. Further, two systematic scientific reviews (Li et al. 2007; Luongo et al. 2016) concluded that inadequate building ventilation is associated with the increased risk of transmission of respiratory infections (including COVID-19 and many others).”
In a literature review, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Labs found an increase in respiratory illness of 50% to 370% percent in spaces with low ventilation rates, such as those commonly found in schools, compared to spaces meeting industry-accepted standards, according to a 2016 report the 21st Century School Fund, the National Council on School Facilities, and the Center for Green Schools. “The importance of facilities to health and performance is well established,” the organizations stated in their “State of our Schools” analysis. “Breathing fresh air is not only critical for keeping students healthy but also for keeping them alert. Several studies have linked recirculating air and low ventilation rates in classrooms with lower average daily attendance and slower speed in completing tasks. Studies also have found that poor facilities are strongly associated with student truancy and higher rates of suspensions."
HVAC Solutions for Schools
Systemair offers several solutions to help schools improve indoor air quality. Among these are Changeair Classroom Vertical Unit Ventilators, which offer a decentralized solution so that each unit is sized for each specific classroom and is dialed-in for the ideal air exchanges per hour.
For larger common areas of the building where ventilation is critical, such as the hallways, auditoriums, cafeteria, and gymnasiums, using the Geniox AHU can help meet ASHRAE 62 by providing heating and cooling paired with energy recovery. With Geniox, you can target multiple areas of the building with a single air handler.
In addition, the Geniox+ AHU allows you to connect a VRF condenser to the air handler and then to the individual Changeair classroom units.
Geniox and Geniox+ AHUs allows for easy maintenance access, another important detail for schools where budgets are always under scrutiny, and the units’ quick deliveries and installation can help with short summertime construction windows. Geniox comes with controllers factory installed, so you can combine the units with the building’s existing management system.