Winooski Schools ventilation inadequate to prevent spread of COVID-19, energy expert says

Adam Jacobs, an efficiency consultant and the former energy manager for the city of Boston, informally evaluated Winooski Schools’ ventilation system and found it “totally insufficient” to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Jacobs was concerned the exposure his wife, a school teacher in the district, would receive. “My wife goes into that building two days a week,” he said.

Jacobs said working with Boston schools on ventilation issues has made him “acutely aware of problems in public schools.”

Lots of issues, according to consultant

Jacobs’ main concerns include:

  • Outdated equipment’s inability to use the fine filters recommended for catching COVID-19 air particulates.
  • Inability to circulate adequate amounts of outdoor air during cold weather months, putting people at particular risk in the winter. 
  • Piecemealed,  motel-style equipment is a low cost, poor performing solution

Schools could be in compliance with state guidelines without safeguarding air quality, Jacobs said. Winter poses an increased challenge to keeping air in classroom clear of the novel coronavirus, and for meeting ventilation standards as the equipment operation scales back bringing in outside air when temperatures drop.

“When it gets colder and they can no longer meet minimum ventilation rates (which is inevitable) — that I think the risks of in-person learning are heightened and the administration needs to respond accordingly,” he said in an email. 

A Winooski Schools typical unit ventilator in a Winooski High School classroom, pictured Sept. 24, 2020.

Winooski says schools safe, in compliance

Winooski School District officials disagree with Jacobs’ assessment.

The district has focused on air quality by having independent testing on ventilation equipment and air quality, and their HVAC equipment has been serviced by a company which ensured they meet American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers school standards, according to Winooski school officials. 

The district also received more than $30,000 from Efficiency Vermont for new HVAC controls and monitors as well as hospital grade air purifiers for their COVID-19 isolation rooms.

“WSD Leadership Team is confident the air quality of our buildings meets all requirements and supports a healthy learning environment for our staff and students,” school district Communications Director Emily Hecker said.

These are the highlights, but subscribers can read the full story here to more fully comprehend the complex issue affecting more than just Winooski Schools.

Contact April Barton at abarton@freepressmedia.com or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.

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