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250 Burnaby classrooms still without COVID-filtering HVAC systems

Inventory also finds seven classrooms without windows and doors to let in fresh air to disperse virus
empty-classroom
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Teachers and students in about 250 Burnaby classrooms will have to keep relying on standalone air scrubbers and open doors and windows to keep the air free of coronavirus until the school district gets money for HVAC upgrades.

The district did an inventory of all its classrooms last year to gauge what ventilation improvements were needed to help stop the spread of coronavirus through the air at local schools, according to secretary-treasurer Russell Horswill.

At schools with ventilation systems, he said the district upgraded the filters to MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) 13, and began circulating the air through the classrooms more frequently.

But the inventory also turned up about 250 classrooms that weren’t attached to ventilation systems.

“Some of our older schools, they don’t have ventilation systems,” Horswill told the NOW. “They would have heating systems, but they would have relied on opening windows and doors to get fresh air into the classrooms.”

Those schools will continue to rely on opening windows and doors for fresh air this year – and cranking up their heating systems to make up for the lost heat, Horswill said.

But seven of the classrooms not attached to ventilation systems also don’t have outside doors or windows that can let in fresh air.

For those, the district has had to rely on standalone air scrubbers to rid the air of airborne virus.

(All portables have standalone furnace systems bringing in fresh air, according to Horswill, so they are “not a concern” for the district.)

When it comes to ventilation, local schools are in about the same position they were in June, according to Horswill.

And, barring capital funding for major HVAC upgrades (something that will be included in this year’s capital funding request, according to Horswill), not much more can be done, he said.

“I would say we’re operating as efficiently as we can,” he said.

In the meantime, however, Burnaby Teachers’ Association president Daniel Tétrault told the NOW teachers at the district’s older schools are concerned about having to rely on air scrubbers and open doors and windows.

“That was done last year,” he said, “but that was without the Delta variant. There’s the unknown of the Delta variant in these classrooms without the up-to-date, adequate ventilation.”

Tétrault acknowledged the district will need provincial funding to address the problem.

But, given their ventilation concerns and the transmissibility of the Delta variant, which has become the most dominant strain of the coronavirus since the last school year, primary teachers are even more frustrated by the absence of a provincial mask mandate for students in kindergarten to Grade 3, according to Tétrault.

The fact many younger kids have shown up to the first few days of school this week wearing masks voluntarily doesn’t change that, he said.

“Our teachers and staff in Burnaby have done a really good job of creating that culture of mask wearing," he said, "but the mask mandate just takes a bit of that onus off of teachers and just adds that extra security and sends that clear message to parents and the community.”

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com