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HVAC readiness a factor in combatting COVID-19 in Michigan public schools

Westwood Heights is one school district already making significant upgrades
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:20 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (10/23/20) - The age and effectiveness of a ventilation system is critical when it comes to keeping students and staff safe inside school buildings during the pandemic.

Although the Westwood Heights district in Mt. Morris Township is all virtual now, the school system has been upgrading its infection protection technology since spring 2019 before the pandemic upended American lives.

“We’ve invested over $3 million in retooling our lighting and HVAC systems, including new boilers at the Hamady Middle High School, and we’re continuing that process by adding some new rooftop handling units that have ionizing filters in them," said Superintendent Peter Toal.

It’s called needlepoint bipolar ionization. The small, electronic devices will be installed in rooftop units at Hamady High School.

“It’s essentially a natural disinfectant detergent that goes out into the space and attacks viruses and bacteria and molds," said SiteLogiq Program Executive Nelson Brikho.

Global Plasma Solutions patented the technology, which the company says significantly reduces pathogens, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

“In this day and age that’s a big factor now in the spreading of, not just COVID, but flu germs and other communicable diseases," Toal said. "So, what we’ve done is create systems that change the air in the rooms much more frequently.”

SiteLogiq came in and tested the level of CO2 inside classrooms. Executive Nelson Brikho says they try to maintain a standard of between 800 and 1,200 parts per million of CO2 in a space. They found some rooms exceeded that level.

“Pre-COVID the concern with CO2 and ventilation air was more revolved around the cognitive ability for students to learn and now in the COVID environment of course, air exchange rate, bringing in fresh ventilation air is recommended," Brikho said.

The upgrades also included automated LED lighting and classroom unit ventilators at McMonagle Elementary. The changes garnered Westwood Heights praise from Consumers Energy as the Large Commercial Project of the Year.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) is trying to determine the status of HVAC systems in all Michigan public schools, and potentially help schools with making necessary upgrades.

The state has made $150,000 available for the new program. EGLE wants school districts to feel out a survey assessment. The maximum award is $15,000 per applicant, with a maximum payment of $1,500 per completed checklist.

While Westwood Heights is now more energy efficient and healthier as a result of the investment, the superintendent says they will complete a survey to see if they may be eligible for some assistance.

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