by Abdullah Khaliqi
The benefits of in-person learning seem clear to most people, especially after the extensive remote learning sessions of the past two years. As schools return students to campus, the importance of ensuring in-classroom health and safety in the changing landscape has been paramount. Since the pandemic began, much has been learned about COVID-19 transmission and the importance of ventilation that maximizes outdoor air. Most people have heard about government relief for school improvements, but what is not as clear is how to obtain the funding and where to spend it across an entire school district.
Starting early in the pandemic, Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates (F&T) created criteria to aid in COVID evaluations of existing buildings. F&T drew upon extensive experience in the healthcare market to come up with multiple illness transmission aspects to consider, including airflow patterns, filtration, and humidity. Proprietary evaluations result in a number score for each building, allowing for a districtwide ranking that identifies the best/worst performers and detailing which aspects could be improved in each building. The Framingham School District was excited to get students back in schools and is working toward creating the best environments possible with the assistance of F&T.
Having been in business for over 60 years, F&T has seen the evolution of priorities in educational facilities. Energy considerations must be balanced to save costs while allowing HVAC systems enough runtime to keep occupants safe. While building code provides for operable windows to check the box of a room having ventilation, a window remaining open during winter months or inclement weather may not be the best approach for a school building in New England.
In Framingham’s case, after evaluations occurred, approximately $7 million was granted to the district for COVID-19 mitigation efforts. F&T has been working with the district to review improvements in 12 buildings and get input from cost estimator Leher Cummings. Working closely with a cost estimator allows for an in-depth understanding of costs associated with potential work. The goal is for the district to apply funds fairly across the district buildings while maximizing efforts to keep students and staff safe.
Bringing facilities back up and running safely is a priority for our clients. The MEP/FP engineers at F&T can help you determine risk to occupants, offer suggestions on areas that could be improved, and help determine how to best apply funding to get the most significant impact possible.
Individual risk can come in almost endless forms, and now those threats include simply being indoors with other people. With careful planning, participants can feel comfortable entering buildings that have safety in mind. The enrichment gained by in-person learning and interaction is undeniable, and thanks to the efforts of the Framingham School District and others applying new research and consideration, the risk is consistently being lessened, allowing us to plan the best methods to educate the next generation safely.
Abdullah Khaliqi, PE, CPQ is academic market leader and senior associate at Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates, Inc.