Province to spend $200K studying schools that lack ventilation systems
60 of province's 294 schools don't have a ventilation system installed
The Department of Education will spend $200,000 this fiscal year to study schools that lack adequate ventilation systems.
But Green Party Leader David Coon wants to see more immediate action to install ventilation equipment in the dozens of schools across the province that don't have any during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sixty of New Brunswick's 294 schools don't have an integrated ventilation system, relying instead on opening doors and windows to circulate air.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a standing working group on ventilation systems for New Brunswick schools developed recommendations for the department, which provide technical direction to school district staff responsible for facilities, said Flavio Nienow, a spokesperson for the department, in an email.
The working group consists of representatives from WorkSafeNB, Public Health, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Department of Education, Nienow said.
"Based on the most recent feedback from this working group, the province will be undertaking pan-provincial programs to address systemic concerns," Nienow said.
"Reviews will begin in March 2021 and schools without integral ventilation systems will be prioritized."
The review comes after the department said last year that standards and systems for ventilation in schools met health and safety requirements for students to return to classes last fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLA wants more immediate fix
Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, which has at least five such schools, said he thinks it's too late to be studying the issue, and the department should instead be installing ventilation systems in schools that don't have any.
"I think there should be an immediate response, and my suggestion for an immediate response is to install classroom-size ventilation units that … install through the wall and are very effective and provide good ventilation and air exchange to the students in their classrooms," Coon said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists opening doors and windows as one recommendation for circulating air, along with ensuring that heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, settings are maximizing ventilation, and using high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters for filtering and cleaning the air.
Coon said he only learned there were dozens of schools across the province lacking ventilation systems after being approached by parents at Fredericton's Forest Hill Elementary School about their concerns.
Parents also concerned
David Greenfield, chair of the school's parent school support committee, wrote a letter to the Anglophone School District West's education council in January, saying the lack of a ventilation system has been an ongoing concern for parents.
"This year that concern has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic," he said in the letter.
"In a building without a ventilation system... window ventilation and natural air leakage in a building will replace the air periodically in a building anyway," said Greenfield, in a followup interview.
"But right now, you know, in the dead of winter, classroom windows have to be opened three times a day to allow proper circulation and refresh the air in the building, and a modern system would be constantly refreshing that air and provide better quality air."
In an email, Jennifer Read, spokesperson for Anglophone School District West, said 24 of its schools don't have integrated ventilation systems. Thirteen of these have partial ventilation, which can include exhaust fans in washrooms and kitchens, among other things.
Read said air quality tests will be done by the provincial government. The district, WorkSafe NB, and Public Health are working on a guide document to help interpret the results.