LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. - In his role as environmental risk manager for the Lee's Summit R-7 school district, Mark White oversees a range of potential health and safety concerns from playgrounds to security to indoor air quality (IAQ).

While not many school districts dedicate a full-time person to this position, Lee's Summit has had a professional in place for five years.

The school district is recognized nationally for its quality educational programs and its strong commitment to the success of all students. That is no small achievement given that the student population numbers more than 16,000 and the district is one of the fastest growing in Missouri.

Many first responders to indoor air concerns typically perform their work on a reactionary basis.

For example, when a complaint was made, White could confirm a foul odor or make an inspection, but often there was little visible evidence to dictate a specific action. When a situation did rise to a certain level of risk, he would contact an industrial hygienist to conduct onsite testing. This could cost as much as $10,000 and might take weeks for results.

Based on his training in risk management, White knew this method was less than ideal. His preference is to:

  • Identify a problem.

  • Revise a solution.

  • Implement the solution.

  • Monitor the results.

    White thought that the Optima system, from Aircuity, with its monitoring and documentation capability would fulfill these requirements and offer a better approach.


    In the first month, White has used the system daily for a variety of applications and it has performed 10 separate tests. He finds it easy to use and believes it has nearly paid for itself.

    Verifying operation of a new, $1 million HVAC system is one example of how Optima is being useful at Lee's Summit. The district's new Early Childhood Education Center was designed with an HVAC system a step above what is normally used in schools or office buildings. It was important to protect the young children ages 5 years and under, many of whom are susceptible to infection or disease.

    The higher performance, premium price system is supposed to filter the air to remove many small and large particles, which can serve as the transport mechanism for infectious bacteria.

    After installation, but before the building was occupied, questions arose about whether the system was working correctly.

    Although the manufacturer believed it was operating as planned, independent tests of the indoor air with the Optima monitor showed higher than expected levels of particulates. Adjustments were made to the HVAC system, another test was conducted, and it did confirm an improvement. The director of construction was very pleased to have the additional, third-party proof of performance.

    In another example, the facilities department wanted the portable monitor brought to one of the new buildings being commissioned. Facilities personnel were using hand-held instruments to check room temperature and humidity, and in addition, the equipment supplier was using yet another set of test instruments.

    Both groups were curious to compare results against the new Optima monitor. White was happy to comply; however he explained that this issue went beyond accuracy. Any measurement taken at one single moment in time is incapable of representing the whole picture.

    As White described it, one-moment-in-time testing is similar to viewing the single frame of a movie. Monitoring over a 24-hour period, capturing data during both occupied and unoccupied hours, is like seeing the entire movie. The results offer a much more comprehensive picture of environmental conditions within a space.

    White credits the automatic reports for convincing others of the value of Optima. He said it is much easier to discuss an environmental concern using the graphs and professional summary. It allows people to see what is happening and makes it clear what needs to be corrected.


    White plans to begin using Optima on a proactive basis, i.e. to establish building baselines or for construction monitoring. In this way, he can understand the environmental dynamics of a particular building with the intention of preventing some problems from ever occurring.

    The Optima system is one more tool to quantify, and hopefully contain, the level of risk posed by any number of air-related health and safety situations.

    The district's continuous improvement process recognizes that not everything can be solved immediately, but the key is to do everything reasonably possible to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for all students.

    Since the initial story was drafted, the assistant superintendent has suggested the purchase of a second system. This one will primarily be used by the energy manager for commissioning and balancing.

    Publication date: 01/23/2006