When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the northeast, Connecticut was quick to take initiative and implement measures to mitigate the spread of the virus. One of these measures was to conduct studies on the indoor air quality and ventilation rates of the state’s educational facilities. While the numerous companies assisting with these studies and corrections helped bring many of these schools’ HVAC systems to a code-compliant level, it shed even more light on how underfunded and undermaintained many of the State’s school facility systems were. Once the initial COVID era ended, the state worked quickly to assess the current findings and develop a plan to help better maintain school facilities moving forward.
After numerous revisions, formal direction was provided in the Connecticut General Statue Section 10-220 “Duties of Boards of Education”. Among the regulations provided by the State regarding the requirements of boards of education, the state focused on the HVAC systems in section 3. Under the requirements, the statute states:
“Prior to January 1, 2024 and every five years thereafter, a local or regional board of education shall provide a uniform inspection and evaluation of the heating, ventilation and air conditions system with each school building under its jurisdiction”.
The statute goes on to outline who is qualified to conduct the assessments, and what specific portions of the HVAC system should be included in the study. Areas such as air filter efficiency, outside air delivery rates, and verification of control sequences are all required to be assessed in the initial study. However, the most important and impactful addition to the statute is found in the final reporting requirement:
“The ventilation systems inspection and evaluation shall identify to what extent each school’s current ventilation system components, including any existing central non central mechanical systems, are operating in such a manner as to provide appropriate ventilation to the school building in accordance with most recent indoor ventilation standards promulgated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).”
Unfortunately, many of the COVID studies shared a similar narrative: that many public schools’ HVAC systems were outdated, past their useful life expectancy, and were providing outside air levels below the current design ASHRAE guidelines. Upgrading a school’s HVAC systems is no simple task, and not a cheap one either. Often when design and construction budgets are presented for infrastructure upgrades, they are quickly turned down due to tight town budgets and expensive costs.
While the State statute may never fully solve this problem, the routine inspection and assessment of the school’s facilities is a great starting point. By building these assessments into a district’s curriculum, it will provide an ongoing image of how the facility is aging compared to the latest code ventilation requirements. While it’s not reasonable to expect an HVAC system to be upgraded every time the code is updated, the assessments will provide a timeline of the review and should help the district make a timely decision for when an upgrade is warranted. In addition, it is more important than ever to ensure a third-party firm is used for the building assessment. A third-party assessor is free of any ties to manufacturers and special interests and can help make neutral recommendations for any system.