Environmental Preparedness in Bedford’s Schools

Now that Bedford students are expected to return to the town’s four schoolhouses next month, members of the Facilities Department are working to ensure that the environment is safe.

“There was some frustration is not knowing what to do, but everything is part of the job. You respond to emergencies,” said Facilities Director Taissir Alani. “The schools and the town have been totally supportive.” He pointed out that his specialists and custodians have been working all summer – the department maintains all municipal buildings.

In preparing the schools, he said, “We developed our own plan.” There were no specific guidelines, only general principles like, “Provide proper ventilation.”

Over the past two weeks, even before the decision to adopt the hybrid reopening model, “We have been organizing the classrooms to accommodate from 12 to 14 kids at a time,” Alani said. The rooms maintain at least six feet of distancing, consistent with the anticipated educational cohorts.

“The models we had was two classrooms in every building, so we could see what it looked like,” Alani continued. “We have removed extra furniture into storage trailers, and we are now in compliance with building and fire codes.” Some furniture was moved out of cafeterias as well.

Alani said there were no significant structural changes needed. There were some modifications to the layout of health offices, in the buildings, “In front main desk offices, we ensured that there was Plexiglass where needed, including sneeze guards. Some are portable and some are permanent.”

Facilities Department personnel consulted building principals about “what really works for them” before installing Plexiglass and signage, such as directional arrows, the director said.

Alani explained classroom air exchange operations. “I know everyone has been asking about this,” he said.

“The existing system meets and exceeds code requirements for air changes per hour,” the director explained. “The mechanical code calls for three changes per hour; we are at four-and-a-half to five. We have tested samples in every school.”

Most classrooms in each of the four schools are equipped with self-contained unit ventilators – Univents – for both heat and ventilation, Alani said. “The virus isn’t going to move from room to room. The uninvent stands alone; there are no ducts.”

Each unit is being equipped with a filter that has a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of eight, which is the most effective filter that can fit in the constraints of the vent motor.

“All the guidelines from the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend preventive maintenance without any specifics,” Alani related. “We are enhancing our current ventilation – we didn’t use MERV 8 before. We have a really good preventive maintenance program – we used to change filters three times a year and now will be changing them every two months.”

Rooftop units that provide ventilation and heat serve main offices, common spaces and a few classrooms, Alani said, and those are equipped with filters that have a 13 rating. He also noted that energy recovery ventilators operate in the additions to Davis, Lane and John Glenn Middle Schools, as required by the town’s green community designation. “Energy efficiency was the driving factor behind our design and philosophy. These ventilators also accept a MERV 13 filter.”

Additional “enhancement measures” are under consideration, Alani added. Another possibility is installation of outdoor tents – really just a cover with no sides – as an outdoor classroom option during the autumn.

Indoors, “We will be sanitizing every day in addition to regular cleaning the whole building every night,” Alani said. “During the school day custodians will be cleaning high-touch surface areas like handrails and doorknobs on a regular basis.”

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