Location: Ithaca, New York
Products Used: Air Handling Solutions, Wellsphere - Mitigate, Wellsphere - Manage, Wellsphere - Assess,
Services Used: Upgrading,
Topic: Optimal Comfort, Air Quality, IEQ,
The Ithaca City School District (ICSD), located approximately 220 miles northwest of New York City, is driven by its mission to Engage, Educate and Empower, which is shared by the community regardless of internal or external conditions. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic motivated community members to rally around the mission more than ever before.
The school district includes 12 campuses where over 5,000 elementary, middle, alternative and high-school students are educated. Buildings range in age from approximately 50 to 140 years old, and are supported by more than 1,000 Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and air-filtration systems. Significant building renovations and additions have been made over the past 20 years.
In a COVID-19 environment, the systems needed to be reconditioned and recalibrated with a dual safety focus on ventilation and air filtration before staff returned on September 3, 2020, and in-person/hybrid learning began on October 5, 2020. They also needed to comply with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) recommendations from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The ICSD worked with a representative group of stakeholders—students, staff, faculty, families and health experts—to design the safest, most responsive approach to resuming in-person learning. Following the group’s recommendation, and its submission to the ICSD Facilities Committee, a comprehensive remediation project undertaken by Trane was launched.
The project was part of a $1.2 million district-building improvement initiative, unanimously approved by the Board of Education, that was devoted to school reopenings. It also followed an approximately $10 million district-wide Energy Performance Contract that Trane completed for the district’s 12 instructional buildings.
The remediation included an analysis of the HVAC and air-filtration systems in all instructional buildings, and repairs in 10 buildings across the 12 campuses where systems were deficient or outdated. It also involved the Trane team coordinating with mechanical and electrical subcontractors, and control vendors, and collaborating with the ICSD HVAC team members. Additional responsibilities ranged from sourcing materials to assisting in evaluating HVAC filters.
The project, which began on July 29 and concluded on September 24, 2020, was performed in three stages:
Stage 1: HVAC Health Check
- Evaluated existing ventilation system settings and operating conditions.
- Assessed existing air-filtration system parameters and conditions.
- Identified improvement areas, specifically targeting ventilation and air filtration.
Stage 2: Ventilation Upgrades
- Increased ventilation using airside system adjustments (per ASHRAE guidance).
- Verified improved ventilation through operational data and physical inspections.
Stage 3: Air-Filtration Enhancements
- Evaluated system design parameters.
- Upgraded all HVAC systems with MERV 13-rated filters, including roof-top and room-based HVAC units, where feasible based on system design parameters.
Trane prepared a Validation Report that documented each project stage, and was reviewed with ICSD leadership. Also, toward the project’s conclusion, the team provided the ICSD with an IAQ report explaining the HVAC and air-filtration improvements that had been made in each building.
Community health and safety needs, as well as comfort levels, made transparency, communication and outreach essential parts of the project’s success. The ICSD created a website where Trane’s system-evaluation findings were featured and progress was posted regularly for the community. Trane team members, who were available 24/7, also participated in community and school-board Zoom meetings to answer HVAC, IAQ and safety questions.
The IAQ systems’ field evaluation and upgrades were among the Trane team’s most comprehensive, and can be credited in part to the outstanding teamwork and mutual goals with the ICSD community.
The HVAC and air-filtration systems have been calibrated to provide fresh air at volumes that exceed those recommended by ASHRAE in response to COVID-19. Also, systems generally operate between 68°F and 74° F for heating, and between 30% and 60% for relative humidity. These levels are within the ranges required by the New York State Education Department. Additional benefits include the following:
- Air filtration is predominantly four times more effective.
- Fresh-air levels are three times higher than previous levels.
- ICSD is among the few area school districts with MERV 13-rated HVAC filters installed in all buildings.
The results are strengthened airflow throughout the buildings and optimal protection against any potential airborne COVID-19 spread in district schools.
The ICSD and Trane partnered to create a safe and secure learning environment at a time when health concerns were at their peak, and look forward to continuing to work together as IAQ becomes a more pressing district priority in the years ahead.