Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Bridgeport schools tackle air quality problems
BRIDGEPORT — The school district has committed to improving air quality in its buildings.
Bridgeport has begun rolling out air purification units to cafeterias, classrooms and some offices, and assessing the state of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems throughout the district.
Local teachers have long called attention to extreme hot and cold temperatures in Bridgeport schools, and some with windows that don’t open all the way.
The schools facilities department told a school board committee last week that it would dive into the HVAC assessments to identify issues and determine next steps.
“Not change parts, not fix something for today, but what is a long-standing solution for the issues that we currently have?” said Jorge Garcia, the director of facilities. “This assessment gives us the kind of data that we need to really dig in and figure out what these problems are.”
Over the last several months, statewide education groups have made air quality a focus of their advocacy. The teachers union, alongside superintendents and school staff, recently called on the state to improve school air quality, including temperature, humidity and contaminants like mold.
A recent survey of nearly 1,000 teachers showed air quality was a major concern in schools across Connecticut. While 97 percent of respondents reported faulty HVAC and ventilation systems, roughly a quarter said their concerns have been actively addressed.
“Air purification was a commitment that we made, and that’s been a hot topic at the state level in terms of opening schools,” Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani told school board members last week.
Garcia said he and a COVID-19 committee found purifiers that meet CDC recommendations by replacing a room’s air at least three times per hour.
They reviewed up to eight versions, considered when they could get the units and how difficult they are to install, as the district continues to look for new ways to protect students from the airborne virus.
As of Tuesday, 69 children, or 0.4 percent of students, had tested positive for COVID-19 this academic year since schools welcomed them back on Aug. 30.
The school facilities team began with installing the purifiers in cafeterias: “We wanted to make sure the most used part of the facility was being addressed early on,” Garcia said. The process was completed as of last week, Testani reported.
Next, they were rolled out to 786 classrooms as of Tuesday, and 11 schools remain to be completed by the start of this week. The units will be put in the main office, nurses’ offices and other common areas too by the end of the month.
The machines have gauges on them, so teachers and staff can confirm that they’re working.
Total spending is at $1.75 million of COVID-relief funds so far, according to an estimate at the recent facilities school board committee.
A slower process, the school facilities department, alongside an engineering firm, is reviewing the results of district-wide HVAC assessments. Those will be used to find lasting air quality solutions in schools with complex systems, Garcia said.
Garcia described the HVAC updates as “a huge component of expenditure” and taking “a lot of time and effort.”
“We’ve got a lot of issues out there with AC, as you all know,” said Garcia. “I’m sure you get the complaints.”
Garcia summarized plans to address school temperature: chillers for Tisdale and Batalla, designs for air-conditioning at Wilbur Cross and Columbus, and boilers at Skane, Hall, Blackham and Curiale.
The facilities department also began work over the summer, including so teachers can let fresh air into their classrooms.
“As teachers wanted to open these windows, and let more fresh air in, there was a need for screens,” said Garcia.
The director said his team re-screened all of Read School and the first floor of Hallen, began work on Thomas Hooker and will continue to look at other buildings.
“We’ll continue to look to rescreen buildings so teachers feel comfortable opening windows,” he said.