At the Department of General Services’ (DGS) we are committed to safety. We follow heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry science measures, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DC Health that support and identify best practices for quality air filtration. We emphasize air filtration, ventilation and comfort as a top priority for the DGS Facilities teams.
Emergency HVAC Retrofit Program
During Summer 2020, in support of safely reopening of DC Public Schools’ (DCPS), Mayor Bowser dedicated $24 million to accelerate retrofitting HVAC units at our 116 DCPS facilities. Between September 2020 and December 2020, all District facilities were outfitted and/or upgraded with new HVAC filters and technology, based on CDC guidance, in anticipation for January 2021 in person learning to resume.
As early as April 2020, DGS began work with industry experts including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and other industry professionals, including engineering firm, SETTY & Associates, to create a design and plan to ensure that schools will be safe for the return of students, teachers, and staff. During this time, DGS sought to determine the science-based requirements, which would lead to the creation of a comprehensive plan to ensure air quality in DCPS facilities remain safe.
DCPS students began returning to in-person learning in February 2021to school buildings with an upgraded HVAC system, designed to draw in outdoor air coupled with an upgraded air filtration enhancement.
What the Emergency HVAC Retrofit Program Actually Performs
Industry science aided in the development of an integrated approach to improve air quality, ventilation, and filtering of airborne viruses, including COVID-19. DGS placed mobile units with a medical-grade HEPA filter to clean the air in each classroom and larger units in common spaces. HEPA – a high efficiency particulate filter – is a type of mechanical air filter that can remove 99.7% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and airborne particles, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Additionally, MERV-13 and 14 filters were installed in building-wide systems to help reduce the type of air particles that may enter facilities. All DCPS facilities received an installation of UV lighting in bathrooms to kill airborne viruses on contact.
DGS will continue to monitor the efficacy of the retrofit program through a new air monitoring system that includes the installation of air scrubbers and sensors that will allow DGS and our third-party engineer to monitor differences in air quality in every DCPS school – which will enable to the District to immediately mitigate any unforeseen change.
This unprecedented yet agile initiative progressed through individual school and classroom assessments, planning and construction phases, and ended with the successful transition of the project from the DGS Capital Construction Services Division to the Facilities Management Division (FMD) in less than a year.
On June 17, 2021, DGS was awarded the 2021 Project of the Year Award by the Construction Management Association of America – National Capital Chapter (CMAA-NCC) – for the achievement of managing the District-wide emergency HVAC retrofit program with DCPS during, and the result of the health emergency.
To see how mobile units with HEPA filters operate, click the link below:
DGS Annual HVAC Maintenance ‘Summer Blitz’
Prior to the start of the school year, the DGS Facilities Maintenance Division (FMD) conducts its annual comprehensive maintenance on DCPS facilities, where HVAC along with other repairs occur. This maintenance program has an all-hands-on-deck approach, to prioritize a safe environment in our schools. As a result of heightened global demand on HVAC supply chains due to the pandemic, DGS developed a contingency plan for schools with air conditioning component issues that require replacement but would not arrive in time for school start. The temporary contingency plan involves the placement of spot coolers and/or window units installed at the impacted schools. DGS also maintains a backup supply of coolers in this plan, in the unforeseen event that any coolers malfunction.
This contingency plan does not impact the emergency air filtration program (installation of the mobile HEPA units) already in place at DCPS facilities. The focus of Summer Blitz repairs is on the cooling of school spaces; the enhanced air filtration continues to function well.
DGS is diligently working with DCPS to ensure the safe operation of DCPS facilities. Over the course of the school year DGS, in consultation with DCPS, will monitor these facilities closely to ensure the District maintains an environmentally safe school year.
The HVAC upgrades and the utilization of the mobile HEPA units, coupled with DCPS employees’ cooperation with health guidelines regarding vaccination, mask wearing, and other advised practices, will further assist the District in achieving the goal of health and safety within DCPS facilities.
To learn more about health and safety for DCPS facilities, visit dcpsreopenstrong.com/health/. DCPS buildings are equipped with indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors that are continuously monitoring air quality in our schools. To view our protocols and indoor air quality report click here.