Boulder Valley School District

Creating Healthy Learning Environments

workers installing new systems
Susan Cousins

BVSD is working hard to improve air quality in all schools 

Students and staff spend hundreds of hours a year in BVSD buildings doing their important work of teaching and learning. 

“The quality of the indoor environment plays a big role in influencing the comfort, health, and performance of all of the students and staff in BVSD buildings,” BVSD sustainability coordinator Ghita Carroll, Ph.D. explained in a recent presentation to the Board of Education. “Therefore, making improvements to indoor air quality is a priority for the District.”

BVSD is working in several ways to understand current conditions related to indoor air quality (IAQ) and make changes to protect and improve it. Construction funded by the Bond program will touch every single building in BVSD, which creates a unique opportunity to comprehensively impact air quality across the district. Hand in hand with this work, BVSD is partnering with the University of Tulsa and the University of Colorado, to track and evaluate the impact of this work on IAQ. In addition, through this partnership, BVSD has developed an Indoor Air Quality Advisory Team to support school administrators by reviewing IAQ-related information and recommending IAQ practices to maintain and improve air quality in school buildings.

According to Dr. Richard Shaughnessy, Program Director for the University of Tulsa Indoor Air Program, BVSD is unique in having such a comprehensive approach to indoor air quality. 

“Not only are you doing it in an orderly fashion, but at the same time, you’ve established a means to track what the improvements are,” explained Shaughnessy, who has been doing this type of work with schools for 30 years. “BVSD is going to know what they got back for the investment.” 

A breath of fresh air

Improving indoor air quality is a target outcome of the work in the 2014 Bond-funded construction program. Green building guiding principles established by the district infuse BVSD’s sustainability goals into the renovation projects. 

"We are upgrading HVAC equipment to not only be more energy-efficient, but also bring more fresh air into all of our buildings and classroom environments and improving indoor air quality.  We are are also using sustainable building materials such as flooring material and flooring adhesive, paints, primers, adhesives and coatings with low Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs),” BVSD director of facilities Molly McLoughlin explained. VOCs are the toxic gases emitted by many products and materials, including those used in construction. 

Most schools will get an overhaul of their ventilation systems through the bond program—either new components will be installed or the existing system will be commissioned to ensure it is working as it should. This work will result in more control over temperatures and how much air is moved through a building, including how much fresh air is brought in. 

It takes a team

In 2016, the Board of Education created the Indoor Air Quality Advisory Team to assist the district with this work. This group includes district staff and community members. The team has established IAQ liaisons at most schools. The liaisons are staff members who work to support indoor air quality efforts at their schools and share school-specific IAQ concerns with the team. The team has also developed recommendations for best practices related to IAQ which will be presented to the board in the form of an updated policy this spring.

"The value of the Indoor Air Quality Advisory Team is immeasurable. The members of this team are volunteers from our community and schools that bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for indoor air quality and passion for the safety of our students and staff,” McLoughlin explained. “The collaboration and care that these individuals bring to the table elevates every aspect of the air quality work."  

Measuring makes a difference

In tandem with this work, the district is conducting pre- and post- bond project audits to understand existing conditions in schools related to air quality and monitor the impacts of the work in the Bond program. Faculty and students from the University of Tulsa and CU are collecting air quality data before and after the bond projects. Technicians are tracking a number of air quality parameters such as carbon dioxide, temperature, and relative humidity. They also conducted visual inspections of rooms to look for items such as blocked vents, air fresheners, clutter, and plants which can impact air quality. The initial data collection helped to establish baseline conditions in schools and develop guidance on how to improve air quality. IAQ liaisons have shared this information with schools, along with recommendations for next steps. Post-construction data collection is on-going. 

"From the pre-construction audit, we learned we have a great opportunity to improve our outreach and education efforts around indoor air quality. This can happen not only in schools with staff and students, but also in operations with our facilities staff on equipment maintenance and adjustments as well as our custodial staff on the importance of cleaning and the effect on indoor air quality,” McLoughlin explained. “How we care for our buildings and behave inside them has a big impact on air quality,” 

Big changes being made

Understanding and awareness gained from the pre-construction audits have prompted some changes. BVSD has established a protocol for responding to IAQ concerns in buildings. New heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems installed in bond projects will be monitored and adjusted through the year following installation. This should also address some of the on-going hot/cold issues experienced by staff in the buildings. 

In addition to building design and operation, building occupants have a big impact on indoor air quality. Clutter collects dust and makes it difficult to clean effectively. Pets, plants, and food contribute contaminants to the environment. Blocked vents impair ventilation. To help maintain cleaner environments, guidelines on best practices for maintaining good indoor air quality, such as restricting personal furniture, plants, and pets were given to new schools. In addition, schools have been taking advantage of having to move out of buildings during construction to purge and recycle unused and unwanted stuff. 

Learn more about what BVSD is doing to protect indoor air quality on the BVSD Indoor Air Quality webpage.  



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