There is no doubt that today’s school administrators face myriad complex challenges: Funding, social conflicts, curriculum and testing debates – these and other issues continue to negatively impact education across the U.S. In most cases the administration is in a reactive position, responding to external conditions over which it has little or no control. But there is one area where school and facility managers can take charge and bring about positive, proactive change to schools: Healthy School Environments. Preventative maintenance and disaster recovery preparedness bring about many benefits to the school districts:
- Improvement in students’ health that lowers absenteeism and can improve academic performance and participation
- Improvement in staff and faculty health that reduces sick days and replacement costs, and can positively impact teacher retention and job satisfaction
- Reduced building and facility maintenance expenses through cost-effective maintenance and recovery planning to avoid costly repairs under emergency conditions
The EPA recently released “Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids” with a wealth of resources to guide school administrators through the creation of a robust school environmental health program. “The EPA has complied excellent advice for school facilities maintenance,” says Tom Peter, Vice President of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. “It provides a solid foundation for preparing a comprehensive Healthy School Plan that will meet a district’s specific needs and help to better manage maintenance costs.”
As a designated Disaster Recovery Services contractor for the Educational Services Commission of NJ (ESCNJ), IRS is prepared to support the organization’s 1,000+ schools and municipalities throughout the state. Peter recommends anticipating seasonal impacts during proactive maintenance planning for healthy school environments:
Winter Maintenance for School Facilities
Winter brings with it one of building maintenance’s biggest challenge: The damaging effects of snow, freezing temperatures, and melt. The compression/expansion cycles wreak havoc on roofs, pipes, and building foundations. The result is fine cracks where water can seep in and frozen pipes bursting in plain sight or behind walls. It is critical for building managers to be vigilant inspectors for any signs of dampness or mold growth and act quickly when it is spotted. Gutters, downspouts and storm drains should be clear, and roofs and gutters should be free of standing water. Any degree of water damage should be addressed with a professional service contractor who can identify hidden moisture areas and safely remove mold growth. “The key is to routinely inspect for moisture and to be prompt and thorough about drying the area,” says Peter.
Spring Maintenance for School Facilities
As the cold of winter fades and warmer weather moves in, plan to make sure the HVAC systems are in good working order. The National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends inspecting HVAC system air handling units and ductwork once a year to maintain Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). “Like any machine,” says Peter, “a clean HVAC system will operate at a higher efficiency with lower operating costs than a dirty one. Regular inspection and cleaning will prolong the life of the equipment as well. But in a school setting, the true benefit is the effect on the students, faculty and staff: Reducing or eliminating air pollutants and irritants means a healthier school environment.” Be sure to use trained, NADCA-certified technicians to inspect the system and coils in the air handling unit before warm weather settles in, as humidity and moisture will lead to mold growth if the system is dirty.
Summer Maintenance for School Facilities
While the students and staff are away, it is time for renovation and repair operations in and around the school buildings. But to make sure everyone returns to a safe environment, proper precautions and guidelines should be followed by all contractors. “NJ Public Employee standards” require specific dust and contamination controls during renovations,” says Peter. “The checklists they provide address regular IAQ self-audits as well as those performed during construction projects. These not only protect the people performing the work, but prevent these contaminants from building up in air systems, lying in wait for the next school year to begin.” Should biohazards (mold) be involved, similar to asbestos removal, only qualified technicians using the appropriate protective gear, equipment and disposal methods should be allowed.
It’s also important to keep the schools ventilated during the summer months. Keeping some air movement and some level of dehumidification going will keep buildings dry and prevent mold growth. “I have seen many school building get moldy during the dormant summer months, just from the humidity,” says Peter.
Fall Maintenance for School Facilities
While teachers and administrators are gearing up for returning students, facility managers should be inspecting classrooms and increasing building ventilation. If there was any type of construction during the summer, or any significant summer storms, be on the lookout for dust or mold buildup or any damage to buildings or systems.
During the fall season it is a good idea to inspect the ventilation units before switching on the heat. According to Peter, “During the summer, coils get wet and can become slimy with microbial growth, and when the heat goes on, they will dry out and become airborne.”
An effective Healthy School Plan is a year-round endeavor. The right plan will reduce maintenance costs, extend the life of facility systems, and – most importantly – have a positive impact on the health and happiness of the school’s students, faculty, and staff.
Tom Peter, Certified Industrial Hygienist, is the Vice President of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. He has an extensive background in occupational health and safety, public health issues, indoor air quality and environmental compliance.
Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is a premier provider of disaster recovery mitigation, environmental remediation, biohazard emergency response and HVAC inspection and cleaning in the New Jersey-Philadelphia-New York City area. IRS is certified by NADCA and have Certified Air Systems Cleaning Technicians and a Certified Ventilation System Inspector on staff.
IRS has been selected to provide disaster recovery services to members of the Educational Services Commission of NJ (ESCNJ), the largest co-op in the state service school districts, colleges, universities, housing authorities, and other county and state agencies throughout New Jersey.
New Jersey State approved Co-op # 65MCESCCPS
RFP # ESCNJ 17/18-34
Contract Dates: 11/16/17-11/15/20