GLOUCESTER Co., Va. - As second-graders at Petsworth Elementary School in Gloucester sit in class, their only concern is answering the next question, not wondering what viruses may be in the air.
Students, teachers and staff have peace of mind because up on the roof, and throughout the schools, a new filtration system is hard at work.
"[You'll find it in] every unit [at] every school. If it's heating and air equipment, then it has a unit in it," said Energy Specialist Kevin Buchanan.
Inside of the HVAC units located at the schools, there is a blue attachment called a Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization Unit.
According to Global Plasma Solution, the company that manufactures a patented NPBI technology, "NPBI is capable of helping improve ventilation and filtration by influencing the removal of small airborne particulate from the environment based on the principle of electrostatic attraction. Ions, like those already prevalent in cleaner outdoor air, are artificially generated within the HVAC system so that when released and distributed throughout the building, they mix with room air and attach to airborne particles. As these charged particles are increasingly attracted and joined to one another, their size and weight is increased to the point where they are now large and heavy enough to be removed with the HVAC system's air movement. They can now be effectively removed from the space and exhausted, filtered or treated."
On Friday, News 3 Reporter Erin Miller was there as Gloucester County Public Schools finished installing the technology in every building.
Superintendent Dr. Walter Clemons calls this a big win for the district. "We look at this as being a mitigation strategy to ensure that we, as a school division, are doing all that we can to keep our students, our staff, and our families safe," he said.
Using CARES Act funding, the County Board of Supervisors covered the cost of the units, which was $923,488. In total, the school district received over $2.8 million from the Board of Supervisors, which allowed them to receive the Needlepoint BiPolar Ionization Units, 12 new school buses, Samsung Galaxy Tablets, & MiFi & WiFi devices.
The units are currently up and running as 97% of staff work on-site and students learn in a hybrid environment.
"We felt that if we were going to have all of our students back, we wanted to add layers of protection to ensure safety," Clemons said.
While the main goal is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, NPBI will also help keep allergies, mold, mildew and other dust particles out of the air. Administrators said this will be a long-term benefit for students and teachers.
From the air to the road, the district also added 12 new school buses.
Robin Rice, Chairwoman for the Gloucester County School Board, said, "These new buses will allow us to socially distance our students as much as we can to cut down on some of those close contacts on the buses."
Over the past few months the district has also set up distribution routes for kids to receive meals whether they are virtual learning or in-person learning. Rice said it has been a collaboration from multiple departments.
"Even when the students aren't in our buildings they are still cared for and thought of. The staff just went above and beyond to continue that they were taken care of," Rice said.
In addition, administrators have created a community dashboard to track COVID-19 cases.
Clemons said, "We wanted to provide that transparency for our community. We wanted people to see exactly you know, how many students have actually tested positive for COVID-19."
To date, they said no outbreaks or transmission have occurred in any schools.
News 3 also reached out to other school districts to see if they had plans to purchase Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization. Their responses are below:
Newport News Public Schools
Newport News Public Schools has purchased portable air purifiers for each classroom in all buildings where the HVAC system does not meet the ASHRAE standard. These air purifiers have HEPA filters which remove small particles to include viruses and bacteria from the air.
NNPS has shared the following with our staff and families: a building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system provides clean air by bringing outside air into the building and filtering the air. The organization that provides regulatory guidance for HVAC systems, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends five air changes per hour; this is a standard supported by Harvard Healthy Buildings, a program of the Harvard University School of Public Health. In buildings where there are relatively new HVAC systems, NNPS is meeting this standard. In other NNPS buildings where HVAC systems are not able to meet this standard, the NNPS Plant Services team is implementing two options to improve ventilation in classrooms:
For classrooms and offices that have windows, opening them just a small amount can increase the air exchanges, but the team knows some buildings do not have windows or the windows are not operable, and on some days, the weather does not permit this option. To address the need for increased ventilation in classrooms, NNPS has purchased portable air purifiers for each classroom in all buildings where the HVAC system does not meet the ASHRAE standard.
Portsmouth Public Schools
At this time, the school division does not have air purifiers in schools. However, the school division has increased its frequency of changing air filters. PPS does have many safety features in effect for the return students in the new year. For example, custodial staff deep cleans classrooms everyday; there are touchless hand sanitation units in schools; floor markers to ensure social distance; and the 77-passenger school buses will only transport 22 students to ensure social distancing. These are just a few of the strategies.
The Auxiliary Services staff meets regularly to discuss necessary safety purchases. I understand that the possible purchase of air purifiers will be a discussion point in the future.
Hampton City Schools
Hampton City Schools has been installing bi polar ionization devices into HVAC units as we upgrade systems. In addition, earlier this year, the division purchased nearly 3,000 HEPA air purifiers for every classroom, library, clinic, and office space as well as replacement filters. The filters are rated HEPA 13 and are a true HEPA filtration system. They are a combination HEPA and charcoal filter. They filter 99.9% of particulate matter in the air every 30 minutes.
Chesapeake Public Schools
CPS utilizes the max MERV rated filters as determined by equipment specific manufacturer recommendations. Currently all HVAC systems throughout the school division receive filter changes every 90 days. CPS hires an outside agency to perform this work. Change out schedule is based on manufacturer specifications and ASHRAE guidelines.
Ventilation/ Ventilation systems:
All CPS buildings have been designed in accordance with State and Local building codes. HVAC systems mechanically introduce outdoor air at code-specified CFM rate that is calculated using the max occupancy of the space.
Consideration of additional HVAC equipment; i.e HEPA filtration and bipolar ionization:
- HEPA filters: CPS has purchased stand alone air purifiers for use in designated isolation (sick) rooms and clinics in each school. This determination was based on the increased likelihood that sick individuals will be occupying these spaces.
- Bipolar Ionization: CPS consulted with a mechanical engineering firm regarding the feasibility of adding bipolar ionization to existing systems. Based on design and operating parameters of existing systems, the addition of bipolar ionization has not been recommended at this time.
Virginia Beach City Public Schools
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, & Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Epidemic Task Force and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Pandemic Manual, one of the most important things an HVAC system can do to combat COVID-19 is to operate properly to effectively control indoor space temperature and humidity.
Since the inception of the pandemic, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) has focused heavily on maintaining proper HVAC system operation while executing multiple, focused preventative maintenance (PM) initiatives throughout the school district. PM initiatives include emergency response for HVAC systems, filter replacement, dilution/flush through extended building operation, indoor environment assessment through data logging, HVAC equipment preventative maintenance, and HVAC equipment coil cleaning.
Over the past decade, VBCPS has incorporated various types of air purification technologies into new building design and HVAC replacements (when appropriate) including bi-polar ionization, ultraviolet treatment, HLR technology and increased filtration.