Being the facilities director for a school district that includes five buildings and houses more than 2,600 students is certainly a challenge. The fact that the buildings, on average, are 50 years old makes the task even more daunting. It certainly helps that Jim Brown can rely on a dedicated staff and his own 25 years of experience, most spent maintaining critical facilities.

Brown is the director of facilities for the Plainville School Board in Plainville, Conn.

He also has praise for a new tool he uses to respond to environmental concerns, the Optimaâ„¢ system from Aircuity. Before this system was available, he said, many in his profession had to rely on trial and error, making adjustments to equipment until the complaints stopped. With the new monitoring system, Brown asserts that he now has reliable information to point him in the right direction when a concern surfaces about indoor air quality (IAQ).

Relieving Mold Concerns

Teachers in one of the oldest buildings complained of a musty smell, observed a substance on the wall, and expressed concerns about mold. Through visual inspection, Brown determined that the substance was in fact glue. However to further satisfy concerns, he used the Optima system to test all four classrooms on one side of the building.

The results indicated high levels of mold spores, and it was discovered that the source was an inner courtyard, which gets little sunlight and contains fruit trees. Fruit had fallen off the trees, and the rotting fruit produced a foul odor. A fancoil unit was pulling in air from the courtyard and introducing it into the classrooms.

The short-term solution involved upgrading the filter to a higher dust-spot efficiency, upgrading from a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 2 to a MERV rating of 10. The building was scheduled for renovation and the facilities staff, now armed with complete knowledge of the situation, convinced the mechanical design engineer to replace the fancoils with a rooftop air handler.

Other Complaints

In another complaint response situation, a member of the office staff was suffering from eye irritation, and believed the source was environmental. Brown placed the unit in the space and let it operate for 24 hours. The test did not detect anything unusual, and he agreed to send a copy of the report to the person's physician. Upon closer examination, the physician diagnosed an eye condition unrelated to the environment. Brown regularly offers to share the contents of the report generated by Optima to relieve people's concerns.

On another occasion, students and others in the middle school band room complained of stagnant, stale air. Once again, the Optima monitor was brought in to provide an independent assessment. The resulting report indicated high CO2 levels during rehearsal times. The facilities staff solved the problem by increasing the volume of outside air into the space. By identifying the source immediately, the staff did not waste time looking in the wrong direction.

Brown is compiling a library of indoor air data for the different buildings and establishing baselines. He values having feedback on the space, stating, "a tool like this is a great asset."

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Publication date: 08/16/2004