Preparing our Buildings
Ventilation and HVAC systems
There is a wide variance in ages of school buildings; the oldest, Somerville High School was built in 1895. This variance has made SPS especially attentive to assessing ventilation and filtration capacity in each of our buildings to ensure efficient and clean air exchange.
SPS has partnered with the Somerville Department of Infrastructure and Asset Management and acquired the services of Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates, an engineering firm specializing in ventilation in the healthcare industry, to assess the safety of each of our school and district buildings. In assessing, we are considering the percent of particles the current filtering system allows, level of humidity control, access to windows/outside air, and the number of touch points in an area. We have completed initial walkthroughs of each building and will make decisions on next steps based on the assessment report and risk analysis framework we will receive in the upcoming weeks. These results will be made public through School Committee meetings. The goal of the report is two-fold: to identify potential issues with the ventilation and filtration in each building, and to make recommendations on how best to mitigate these issues and identify what the cost and timeline for each fix will be.
Initial walkthroughs show areas of concern in some of the older buildings and in certain instructional spaces without adequate existing airflow. At the time of this report, all school buildings have been analyzed by a certified HVAC expert. The district is currently considering building enhancements to increase existing ventilation rates (outdoor air change rate) and enhance ventilation effectiveness from existing systems. In addition, the district is in the process of supplementing existing ventilation systems with portable air cleaners (with medical filtration systems to capture airborne microdroplets) where there are areas of known air stagnation not well ventilated by the existing system. Air cleaners will be maintained on a regular basis and filters will be upgraded, if necessary, and replaced quarterly.
On November 10, 2020, a School Building COVID-19 Risk Assessment and Mitigation Plan was completed and submitted to the City of Somerville’s Department of Infrastructure and Asset Management detailing the work needed to bring each of the school buildings to within the established Low Risk level of possible airborne transmission. The report was also made public on November 10, 2020 and is available for viewing or download on the SPS Back to School webpage (www.somerville.k12.ma.us/back-school-2020).
The report includes the following findings: “Based on the data collected and the analysis performed, the team determined that high risk conditions were present at the Brown School, the Edgerly School and the existing High School. Moreover, due to the age of the systems in those buildings, the potential does not exist to reduce Covid-19 transmission risk to an acceptable level. Consequently, those three buildings were eliminated from additional investigation under this current effort for short-term solutions, and will be addressed as part of the larger scale Building Master Plan, which will evaluate more extensive renovations.”
The complete building report and proposed mitigation plan is available at this link.
Each SPS school building is a different size and shape, and has differing amenities. Schools will be provided plexiglass countertop dividers for high traffic locations in their main office and other administrative spaces. Plexiglass is also being installed near the kitchens and in select Science labs. Additional countertop and mobile dividers can be requested as new needs are identified throughout the school year.
School cleaning and disinfecting
Although it is not the main way the virus spreads, it may be possible for an individual to get Covid-19 by touching an object that is contaminated and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly eyes. To avoid the spread of Covid-19 through touching contaminated surfaces, maintaining frequent cleaning practices will be one more preventative measure in reducing the possibility of spread within school buildings.
SPS, in partnership with the Somerville Department of Public Works (DPW) will engage in the following practices:
- DPW will continue to follow CDC guidance practices in regards to cleaning and disinfecting facilities.
- School custodians will use gloves and masks, supplemented by room ventilation, to keep themselves safe during all routine cleaning.
- Whenever a new group of students is entering, classrooms will be fully wiped down with either diluted bleach or Quaternary ammonium and ethanol, based on CDC guidelines.
- At least twice per day, school custodians will sanitize high touch areas in alignment with CDC guidelines. High touch areas include bathrooms, chairs, handles, stair rails, cafeteria tables, and shared spaces such as the nurse’s office and front office.
- All school buildings will be cleaned and sanitized each night.
- The city purchased electrostatic deep cleaning sanitizing spray cleaners for each building, and on the weekends and remote learning days (Wednesdays), DPW will conduct electrostatic sanitizing spray cleaning in all school classrooms and shared spaces.
- DPW will sanitize cafeterias and food distribution sites in addition to the routine cleaning performed by Food and Nutrition Services.
- Hand sanitizer will be available in classrooms, entrances and exits to bathrooms, and in lunch rooms.
- Sanitizing wipes will be provided in each classroom to wipe down desk and chair surfaces regularly.
- Students will clean desks prior to using, and before and after eating. Disinfectants used before and after lunch will be appropriate for use with food surfaces.
- Desks will be cleaned at the high school level if cohorts of students move between classrooms. Desks will be cleaned when the student first sits to use the surface and when the student leaves the classroom.
To enforce six feet of physical distancing, entrances and hallways will be marked to ensure students being dropped off or picked up do not cluster. School Principals have mapped out a plan for their buildings to stagger entrances and exits to minimize students and parents congregating in one area. Signs will be placed throughout school buildings to guide and remind of adherence to following proper health and safety protocols. Signs will include the use of pictures and be in multiple languages. Signs include signalling the wearing and proper use of masks, reminders and guidance on handwashing and sanitizing, clearly marked points for entry and exit, directional arrows in hallways and stairwells, and social distancing reminders such as prompts in areas where students form lines and reminders in mask breaks areas.