MERIDEN — School officials have utilized federal coronavirus relief funds to overhaul the air quality control measures in the city’s school buildings.
That overhaul coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which required leaders in Meriden and other districts to reassess their school buildings’ air handling systems — leading officials to ponder new questions when it comes to air handling. Among them: During what seasons should officials be circulating outdoor air into buildings, what grade air filters should be purchased, and more.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s office surveyed local district leaders on air quality programs in their facilities last spring. Those surveys asked a range of questions, including whether local districts had fully implemented programs in their facilities and whether they had the funding to do so. One-third of school districts, including Meriden, across the state reported at the time they did not have sufficient funding, according to reported responses.
Connecticut Public Radio, a non-profit newsroom that spans the entire state, published the results of those surveys this week. The governor’s office released those results six months after the news outlet had requested them.
The Lamont administration provided the Record-Journal with the findings after CT Public published its report.
The results showed other school districts, including Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire, reported they had indoor air quality programs in place at their facilities at the time officials were surveyed. Meriden was among the school districts that at the time reported it did not have such programs in place.
David Paul, director of facilities for the Meriden Public Schools, described the implementation of an air quality program across the district over the past two years that strikes a balance between effectiveness and cost.
For example, officials assessed whether implementing ultraviolet bulbs to sanitize air handling systems would be sustainable. With bulbs costing about $1,500 each, officials estimated it would cost $100,000 annually to change out those bulbs alone. Officials went with another option, ionization, which promises longer sustainability and a lower cost.
“There is an upfront cost, but hopefully with a sustainable outcome,” Paul said. Additional costs
The district retained the services of environmental engineering consultants Fuss & O’Neill to study the district’s air handling systems. The firm was contracted in 2020 and in 2021, at a total cost of $39,314. Its findings for each school building can be found on the district’s website https://www.meridenk12.org/departments/facilities/covid-19-resources/.
Another contractor, Connecticut Temperature Controls, was retained to review those building reports and implement the changes outlined in them. The cost of retaining those services was $41,000.
The district spent another $15,000 to construct new isolation rooms in the nurse’s areas of each school building and another $10,000 to disinfect and clean all coils within the air handling systems.
District staff also upgraded the filters in each system to those capable of capturing larger quantities of particles. Officials estimated the cost for those filters to be $35,500 per filter change. They have been changed five times to date at a total cost of $177,500.
The changes also included the addition of active air purification units to all high school locker rooms and to areas in buildings where students have difficulty wearing face coverings. The cost for those measures was $37,500.
The total cost of the measures above is around $295,000. More robust system
Officials described the undertaking of other measures, including continuous cleaning and disinfecting of school cafeterias and other high volume areas between lunch waves and throughout the school day. The district is also working with its contractors to install air ionization devices in its buildings.
Michael Grove, assistant superintendent of operations for the Meriden Public Schools, described a system for monitoring buildings’ air quality that is more robust than it had been prior to the pandemic. The environmental assessments, for example, showed some air handling systems weren’t functioning as well as they should have been. Some systems will likely be due for replacement in the coming years.
“Over the last two years, I believe we have developed a pretty robust air quality control program,” Grove said.
Officials are not done assessing whether other improvements that can be made. Paul described a plan to use some of the federal funding to look at air conditioning to improve the building climate of the city’s elementary schools.
“Most of the elementary buildings do not have air conditioning in the classrooms,” Paul said.