Stamford schools work to improve air quality, ventilation issues – The Advocate

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Toquam Magnet Elementary School, Dec. 4, 2019.
STAMFORD — School officials have made an effort to improve air quality in schools ever since the onset of COVID-19, but some buildings still suffer from poor ventilation and ongoing mold issues.
Recently, the school district contacted Connecticut OSHA, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to provide consultation on air quality at Toquam Magnet Elementary School, one of the district’s most troubled buildings.
Toquam is one of five schools on a list to be torn down and rebuilt, due to extensive issues with the structure, including water intrusion.
Another concern is the HVAC system. According to a memo last week from Kevin McCarthy, director of facility operations, the system’s valves are “faulty,” which “inhibits appropriately air conditioning the building.”
Stamford isn’t the only city grappling with ventilation issues.
At a press conference on Thursday, union leaders and association heads called on the state to improve school HVAC systems and air quality, including temperature, humidity and contaminants like mold. A recent survey of school teachers showed that was a major concern for most respondents.
Speakers sought support from the General Assembly, and asked they approve a state spending plan using federal funds for HVAC repairs, and include air quality updates in state education department bond funding for school construction.
In Stamford, the district has already earmarked $1.65 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to fix HVAC issues at Scofield Middle School, Northeast Elementary School and Turn of River Middle School.
As for Toquam, the anticipated fix of the air system is slated for summer of 2022.
Olympia Della Flora, associate superintendent for school development, said there have been “limited issues” with mold at the school recently, but that there have been several heat waves with high humidity recently, and parts of the school’s HVAC system are in need of repair.
“While the HVAC system is functioning to the best of its 1990 design and construction limitations, there is a re-piping project planned for summer 2022,” Della Flora said. “The re-piping project should address the water flow issue within the dual temperature piping and resolve the air conditioning issue currently being encountered in the building.”
Diane Phanos, president of the Stamford Education Association teachers union, said teachers have been measuring and tracking temperatures and humidity levels in their classrooms on their own and have sent in photos of water-stained ceiling tiles.
Teachers at the school have sounded the alarm for years about mold inside the building. And this school year, the district has received about 10 complaints from educators in the building related to mold, Della Flora said.
Mold has been an ongoing issue at many district schools. The most extreme example was Westover Magnet Elementary School, where students and staff there were relocated to an office building on Elmcroft Road owned by Building and Land Technology in 2018, where they remained for two years.
Ventilation issues continued even after the school re-opened. Recently, the district spent almost $3 million to purchase three new outdoor air-dehumidifier units to address the ongoing air and mold issues.
Ignacio Laguarda is a reporter who covers education and more for the Stamford Advocate.


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