School Ventilation/HVAC and Air Quality

Updated Oct. 16, 2020

What are the recommended practices to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19?

School Boards are expected to employ multiple strategies to support healthy and safe learning environments for students and staff. In combination with other preventive measures such as hand washing, enhanced cleaning, masking, physical distancing and self-screening by parents, students and staff, optimizing the ventilation within classrooms is an additional strategy to help reduce the risk of transmission.

Measures to help improve the air-quality in indoor settings include:

  1. Ventilation: increasing the flow of outdoor/fresh air for diluting the concentration of any infectious particles.
  2. Filtration: filtering air to remove infectious particles.

What has the Ministry of Education done to help school boards optimize air quality in schools? 

On Aug. 25, 2020 the Ministry of Education allocated $50 million in new funding in order to optimize the ventilation systems in schools. The allocation for Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington (PVNC) Catholic District School Board  is $367,900 (an average of $10,000 per school) and eligible expenses for the new funding are as follows:

  • Upgrading current air filters to the highest possible MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) and increasing the frequency in which filters are replaced to ensure maximum air flow (filters and installation costs);
  • Performing recommissioning of current HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems to optimize air circulation and pressure, ensuring systems are meeting performance targets; and
  • Purchasing portable air filtration systems with HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters for classrooms that have limited air ventilation/fresh air options.

What has PVNC done to improve air quality in its schools? 

Ventilation:

  • The Board is taking steps to ensure that the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems within schools are in optimum condition.
  • Between September and October, the Board contracted with a qualified mechanical engineering firm to review the effectiveness of our current ventilation systems on a room-by-room basis, with a particular focus on identifying schools with no or partial mechanical ventilation.
  • Contractors and maintenance staff have serviced equipment where improvements were needed to ensure equipment is working at optimal levels.
  • Filters for mechanical ventilation in schools were all replaced with clean MERV 10 filters in August, prior to the Ministry’s announcement. MERV 13 filters have been ordered for the air handling equipment that can accommodate the higher resistance and are expected to arrive by the end of October and be installed throughout the months of November and December. Filter changes will occur throughout the school year on a more frequent basis ( a minimum of four times per year).
  • The controls for our building automation systems have been adjusted to increase the amount of fresh air flowing into the schools by extending the length of time air handling equipment operates, and increasing the air flow volume by as much as 30%. The efficiency of those systems is being monitored on a more frequent basis by our building management system contractors and our own facilities services staff.

Filtration:

  • Classroom spaces that have either partial or no mechanical ventilation will be augmented with new portable HEPA units, which have now been installed in schools. 
  • 60 portable HEPA units have been purchased and installed in classroom and staff rooms where necessary in the following schools: St. Anne CES, Peterborough (18), Immaculate Conception CES, Peterborough (12), St. Paul CES, Peterborough (6), St. Michael CES, Cobourg (13) and St. Mary CES, Grafton (4).
  • In recent years, the Board has been replacing older portables with new ones that have excellent air handling capacity and no additional supports are required for those portables.  Where an older portable is being used as a classroom for the 2020/2021 school year, a portable HEPA unit will be provided.
  • An additional 20 HEPA units have been ordered to support older portables and additional spaces if needed. Older portable sites include St. John CES, Peterborough, St. Paul CES, Peterborough, St. Francis of Assisi CES, Newcastle, St. Dominic CES, Lindsay, St. Mary CES, Grafton and St. Elizabeth CES, Bowmanville. 
  • Also, each region of the board will have a larger, portable HEPA purifier (with a capacity of 1,000 cfm) ready for use by schools following an outbreak to assist in disinfecting.