Ventilation in Campus Buildings

As of August 11, 2020

As part of the ongoing discussion about Williston Northampton School’s COVID-19 response and the measures the school is taking to re-open, we wanted to let the Williston community know what air conditioning and ventilation systems exist in campus buildings now, and what additional modifications have been made.

As the school has prepared for reopening, we have consulted with the school’s medical director, Dr. Peter Elsea. When reviewing all factors, Dr. Elsea’s guidance—supported by the tremendous amount of information being provided from numerous sources, including the CDC and state and local health authorities—boils down to the fact that wearing masks, distancing, and rigorous testing will keep the risk of infection and transmitting the virus down significantly. All other measures are secondary to these.

However, since we’ve received several questions regarding indoor ventilation, we wanted to provide this overview of the various systems in school buildings and additional steps being taken in preparation for the start of school. This information should offer some peace of mind.

Williston has a variety of air conditioning and air circulation systems on campus. Some buildings have air conditioning: the Middle School, the Williston Theater, the Technology Center classroom, Plimpton Hall (College Counseling), the Homestead, parts of the Reed Campus Center, the three new dorms on the residential quad, and the Birch Dining Commons. Other buildings have air circulation systems but no cooling: Clapp Memorial Library and the Sabina Cain Family Athletic Center. These air circulation systems draw air from the outside. This will be important to note later as we discuss spaces that do not have windows.

We have seen plans from other institutions stating they are upgrading air filters in their building systems. However, the filters in all air circulation systems at Williston do not need to be upgraded. This is because the standard filter we already use at Williston is a high-end, pleated MERV 8-rated filter. We have been using these for the past four years. These filters are changed out on a very frequent schedule, and that schedule is increased in frequency, depending on the time of year. The MERV-8 rated filters allow the current systems on campus to work most effectively. During the pandemic, there have been general recommendations to seek filters with a higher MERV rating. However, making such changes would, for a number of systems on campus, actually be detrimental to the efficiency and effectiveness of these systems. In some cases, it might even damage these systems.

As we open school, most every classroom will have a standalone HEPA air purifier. We have a considerable number of these units (view them here), able to cover all classrooms, and an ample supply of filters that will need to be changed on a regular schedule.

Another step that will be part of the standard housekeeping protocol is that windows will be opened in classrooms once a day. We have shared our protocols with other institutions, and we have been commended for including this as part of our housekeeping plans.

As part of the review of the various systems on campus, we have made additional improvements to air circulation systems:

  • Scott Hall The seven classrooms in Scott Hall have or had combination air circulation and heating units in each of the classrooms. These units will be added or replaced, and each will have access to outside air that will constantly flow into the classroom, dictated by central controls that will be connected back to the school’s central energy management system. It should be noted that the theater and the blackbox theater are part of the overall air conditioning system for that particular section of Scott Hall, and therefore already have regular outside air introduced into these spaces.
  • Schoolhouse In five Schoolhouse classrooms, new motors and controls will be installed so the vents accessing outside air can regularly flow into these spaces. Ductwork will be installed in the second and third floor that will draw air from the outside and down the hallways. Air conditioning units will be installed in every classroom. This provides a constant stream of outside air. All repairs needed to all classroom Schoolhouse windows have been made, so these can open easily.
  • Whitaker-Bement Center Multiple controls are being installed in the Middle School so each space will be able to regulate air flow and air conditioning more specifically.

Some questions have been raised about ventilation in areas that do not have windows. These classrooms have air conditioning or air circulation systems that introduce outside air into these spaces. In some cases, more air is channeled to these classrooms than other spaces that have windows but are not opened often:

  • The Center for Academic Success and Robotics Classroom This space was renovated two years ago. The air circulation system was improved as part of the renovation, introducing considerably more outside air into these areas. Contractors are working in these areas now to make some updates to systems that will send even more air to this area.
  • Dance Studio This is an air conditioning system that runs very well and provides regularly flowing outside air into the space.
  • Whitaker-Bement Center lower level classroom This is an air circulation system that runs very well and provides regularly flowing outside air into the space. With the additional air systems improvements being made in this building, the class spaces here will have more controls installed to dictate the flow of air into these areas.
  • Technology Center Classroom This is an air conditioning system that runs well. The unit ventilator in this space introduces outside air into this space.

To provide an option to hold class outside, we are installing three tents. There will be a 40′ x 60′ tent on the main Quad, as well as 20′ x 40′ tents in front of the Middle School and at the Sabina Cain Family Athletic Center.

We have purchased 100 box fans for additional air circulation, should they be requested. In the gymnasium classrooms, there are two large fans on the ceiling to help move air around.