$8.5 million total for air purifiers in every CPS classroom

Date: 
11/04/2020
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Totaling $8.5 million every Chicago Public Schools (CPS) classroom in their 636 school network will have one of 20,000 Intellipure HEPA air purifiers installed, according to a CPS announcement this morning. In support of that announcement, they released the district-wide and school-by-school results of its ventilation assessments, as well as air quality evaluations.

“CPS is taking the necessary steps to create the safest possible environment for in-person learning, which is essential to the healthy development of young people in our city,” said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “In private and parochial schools that are in session, as well as other states where in-person learning is occurring, we have seen very little transmission of COVID-19 in those settings.”  

“Combined with critical mitigation efforts, such as mask-wearing, readily available hand sanitizer, signage and social distancing, the district’s plan supports a safe return to school,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. 

These purifiers, which exceed MERV 13 standards and provide more rapid filtration of air than HVAC filters, are capable of ensuring clean, regularly filtered air for classrooms even if mechanical or natural ventilation were not available.  

They filter over 99.99% of airborne viruses, bacteria, and mold and follow the Harvard School of Medicine’s Healthy Buildings recommendation to install HEPA filters in classrooms, according to CPS.  

Classroom Ventilation Assessments and Air Quality Evaluations
The district used a combination of internal ventilation audits, which involved both classroom-by-classroom assessments of ventilation systems in every district school, as well as independent air quality assessments conducted by state-certified environmental hygienists.

Assessments have been completed for nearly all schools and are available online. The district’s new web page notes the status of all classrooms, and any classroom that needs repairs or investments will be addressed before students return to those spaces.  

This year, the district has invested more than $68 million in mechanical system enhancements and replacements to promote proper ventilation, with an additional $48 million budgeted in fiscal year 2021 for additional upgrades and repairs.   

In order to be considered ready for occupancy by the district, spaces needed to meet ventilation requirements and schools needed to be deemed as safe for occupancy by an independent state-certified environmental hygienist.  

To meet ventilation requirements, a space must have functioning mechanical ventilation, which is defined as the ability to both move air in and out of the room, or have a functioning window with one or more supplemental air purifiers, depending on the size of the room. Bathrooms are traditionally designed to only utilize air exhaust as a means to exchange air, so an air exhaust is the only requirement for a bathroom to be cleared for use.

Summary of District Criteria:

    • Air Quality: 
      • State-certified environmental specialist deems a school suitable for re-occupancy. 
    • Ventilation - Classrooms/Spaces: 
      • Functioning Mechanical Ventilation (exhaust and air supply) OR
      • Operable window with air purifiers. 
    • Ventilation - Bathrooms: 
      • Functioning mechanical exhaust.  

Summary of the District-Wide Ventilation Results as of Nov. 2:

    • 94 percent of spaces in school buildings have been cleared (Out of more than 36,000 spaces assessed)
    • 99 percent of classrooms in school buildings have been cleared (Out of nearly 20,000 classrooms assessed)
      • Of all classrooms, 91 percent have functioning mechanical ventilation. 
    • No students will be in classrooms that have not been cleared, and all school buildings have classrooms that have been cleared to safely welcome students.  

Summary of District-Wide Indoor Air Quality Results as of Nov. 2:

    • State-certified environmental specialists have determined that all 513 campuses that have been fully evaluated are acceptable for re-occupancy based on the results. Six CPS schools have been under active construction until recently, and their assessments will be completed in the near future and posted online
    • The state-certified environmental specialists evaluated four key metrics in a sampling of areas in each school, which are indicators of mechanical system functions: Airborne particulates, CO levels, temperature and relative humidity. Detailed criteria can be found in the school-based reports online. 
    • Temperature and relative humidity: Temperature and relative humidity are defined by ASHRAE as being generally applicable to comfort and prevention of mold, and while important, are generally not harmful to health. Greater variation outside of recommended ranges among these metrics can be seen across schools while still being considered suitable for re-occupancy by experts.  
      • 98 percent of the approximately 11,000 readings were within the recommended Relative Humidity ranges. 90 percent of schools had all humidity readings within the ideal range. 
      • 76 percent of the approximately 11,000 readings were within the recommended temperature ranges. 26 percent of schools had all temperature readings within the ideal range.  
    • Particulates: 99.7 percent of readings were within the range. Of nearly 11,000 readings district-wide, 35 spaces in 14 schools had areas in the building with particulates outside of the recommended range, primarily due to ongoing construction and maintenance.
    • CO: 99.99 percent of readings were within the acceptable range. Of nearly 11,000 readings district-wide, only one space at one school had CO ranges in an area outside of the recommended levels. This issue was resolved immediately.  

What is next?
While the district has not yet determined when school-based learning may resume, the district is preparing for a safe return to in-person instruction in order to prevent learning loss and promote equity. 

CPS says that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on attendance and enrollment among students in pre-k and cluster classrooms, with the greatest impact on Black and Latinx students. They predict that the impact of this will have a profound impact on a generation of students and families if it is not addressed.  

Their promise is to provide an update on its goal of resuming in-person learning at some point in the second quarter for students in pre-k and cluster programs. While they do not know what the health outlook will be in the days ahead, they will continue to follow the guidance, re-open only if it is deemed safe to do so by public health officials. 

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