Prepping K-12 Schools for Multipurpose Use Year-Round

For most, the term K-12 facilities is synonymous with places of learning for public education. However, it’s becoming clear that these facilities can be used for more than just the typical classroom instructional time.

Evidence indicates that more value is being placed on extracurricular activities such as theater, music, and other artistic outlets. As stated by Ryan Gregory in an article featured in District Administration, “Educators are increasingly taking a more holistic approach that recognizes extracurricular programs as inseparable from the traditional classroom experience.” As a result, school facilities will have a bigger role in the student experience when these buildings are being used after hours.

Off-season training, artistic performances, and social events happen all throughout the year. During the summer, there may be several summer camps taking place in school facilities. Whether it is during the cold winter months or the heat of summer, large groups of people gather in enclosed spaces for extracurricular events so indoor air quality (IAQ) is vital year-round. It’s essential for schools to emphasize safe IAQ to maximize the experience and safety of both the students and the attendees during these activities.

From updating the HVAC systems to retrofitting existing systems, it is paramount that school facilities take the proper proactive steps to ensure they are providing safe, clean air to breathe.

IAQ Solutions
There are three main components of enhanced IAQ – filtration, ventilation and humidity control. When looking at potential upgrades or replacement HVAC solutions, focusing on those three areas is critical.

When it comes to minimizing airborne pathogens or pollution, filtration provides facilities with defensive measures to keep the air clean. As recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), MERV 13 filters provide a great defense against airborne pathogens and other particulates that could negatively impact IAQ for schools. If your HVAC unit is compatible, MERV 13 filters are recommended as they can filter particles as small as 0.3 microns such as dust/pollen, auto exhaust, and mold spores.

The unit ventilator must be able to control ventilation for facility managers to ensure the required minimum amount of fresh outside air is introduced into the space. It must also properly heat or cool that air, control humidity, and filter contaminants. It is important to have unit ventilators designed to ensure the building is not over- or under-ventilated. If the space is under-ventilated, the indoor air pollutants will not be effectively diluted. If the space is over-ventilated, it can consume excessive energy without providing comparable benefits above the prescribed ventilation rate. Besides increased utility bills, it can reduce the lifespan of the unit ventilator through additional wear and tear on the equipment from running longer than required. Having a unit ventilator with proper ventilation controls is key to ensuring the indoor air is kept fresh and clean while keeping energy costs down.

When the weather is extremely hot or extremely cold, humidity control can make the space feel more comfortable. These controls are key because relative humidity levels will change depending on the season. In the summer, increased moisture can make the air feel muggy and also promote organic growth. In the winter, the lack of moisture can make the air feel dry and lead to dry noses, sore throats, and irritated skin. Human comfort hinges on the delicate interplay of temperature and humidity, particularly within the thermal-neutral zone. Ideally maintained between 68-77°F and 40%-60% relative humidity, this range fosters optimal conditions for a resting body’s core temperature regulation. Indoors, individuals can enhance their comfort by controlling these environmental factors, emphasizing the significance of tailored indoor conditions for personal well-being. By having indoor conditions within the thermal-neutral zone, students and teachers are able to maximize their concentration levels and reduce fatigue.

Retrofit Upgrades for Year-Round Success
If you want to further enhance IAQ with your existing HVAC system, consider retrofitting it with upgrades. When it comes to improving filtration, Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI) can provide an extra layer of defense year-round. NPBI creates and releases ions into the airstream using your existing HVAC system as the delivery method. When these ions disperse throughout the space, they seek out and form bonds with particles in the air. The particles begin to cluster. The larger a cluster of particles becomes, the easier your system can filter it out of the air.

Another retrofit upgrade that can be added to improve IAQ is using a ceiling mounted ultra-violet active air disinfection system. This system uses an ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) chamber and air circulating fans to treat air in occupied spaces. The fans draw in airborne pathogens and pollutants into the UVGI chamber for UV-C to neutralize viruses, bacteria, and fungi. A UVGI system can mitigate the spread of illness in occupied spaces where increasing ventilation may be challenging.

By adding devices like NPBI for improved filtration and UVGI for a germicidal solution to the existing ventilation HVAC system, IAQ can be greatly improved throughout the school year and during extracurricular activities.

Preventative Maintenance
No matter how excellent your HVAC solution is at providing enhanced IAQ, regular maintenance must be performed to ensure it operates at optimal capacity. For many school districts, failure to service the equipment has resulted in unit malfunction and poor unit efficiency. If a unit isn’t serviced regularly, it could result in poor IAQ. It’s important to review and follow the manufacturer’s installation manual and develop a plan that includes a reoccurring preventative maintenance inspection. These inspections will help guarantee that your unit is being cleaned and that all the components are working properly. A certified professional can alert facility managers to any potential problems that need to be addressed.

Providing Excellent Air
With year-round, multipurpose use of K-12 school facilities being the norm, school leaders must be proactive in making sure their buildings are prepped and ready to go 365 days out of the year. HVAC solutions are the instruments that create enhanced IAQ. It’s vital for unit ventilators to have the proper components – filtration, ventilation and humidity control – so that facility managers can ensure the building is comfortable and providing safe air to breathe. Combine with regular maintenance, and you are setting your HVAC unit up for optimal performance while providing excellent IAQ.

Kevin Slusser is the Associate Product Manager for the IAQ division of Modine Manufacturing Company. At Modine, we are engineering a cleaner, healthier world. Building on more than 100 years of excellence in thermal management, we provide trusted systems and solutions that improve air quality and conserve natural resources. Modine is a global company headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin (USA), with operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

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