Well-ventilated classrooms and good indoor air quality are essential in schools and other learning environments. Poor indoor air quality can result in a decline of student performance by as much as 10 to 15 percent or as much as an entire letter grade. Studies at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory indicate poor ventilation and elevated CO2 levels correspond to increased absence and other studies indicate poor ventilation may be associated with increased respiratory illness.

In 2012, RS&H worked with the US Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to create and implement a proactive indoor air quality program. RS&H performed indoor air quality evaluations at 18 schools from West Point, New York, to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Results of the surveys were used to prioritize schools for improvements based on indoor air quality and risk management parameters. Recommendations for improvements included immediate, short-term, and long-term solutions based on risk, school conditions, and school replacement schedules.

This multi-phased investigative approach identified schools, wings, and individual classrooms with ventilation and/or indoor air quality issues. The information allowed the schools to address mechanical or operational problems with low-cost solutions before they could become high-risk situations, for example, teacher or student health complaints attributed to school conditions. By employing a proactive program, the schools save time and money by implementing low-cost preventative options, instead of reacting to complaints and having to fix major issues with urgent timeframes.

Overall, ventilation is crucial in maintaining good air quality in the schools. If the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system is working properly, other problems are minimized or avoided by moving fresh air through the building. This avoids buildup or increased concentrations of contaminants. As a result of this proactive program, the DoDEA is focusing resources to maximize results and implementing short-term and long-term solutions to attain healthier education and workplace environments for our military families.

— By Jeffrey Prewitt

Jeffrey Prewitt is a Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant and Professional Geologist with RS&H’s Sustainability Services group. He has extensive experience with indoor environments, microbial investigations, and risk management. He designs and implements pro-active indoor air quality programs to improve occupant performance, reduce absenteeism, and reduce owner risk. Mr. Prewitt combines his knowledge of indoor air quality, building construction, and geology to investigate and provide solutions for building vapor intrusion.

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Joe VanHoose
Joe VanHoose
Joe is a storyteller with more than a decade of experience in media relations, with particular specialty in writing and promoting. He can be reached at joe.vanhoose@rsandh.com.