“Not only is the indoor air in many schools much healthier, but we’ve been able to save school systems an estimated $500,000 in maintenance and energy costs in just seven months,” said Bill Elswick, coordinator of transportation and facilities for the West Virginia Department of Education.“This program has been a win-win for students, school systems, school employees and taxpayers.”
According to Elswick, Senator Jon Blair Hunter (Monongalia County) and Delegate Larry Williams (Preston County) initiated legislation in 1999 to address air quality issues in West Virginia’s schools.
“The indoor air quality legislation included input from everyone involved -- from teachers’ organizations, the state service personnel organization, the School Building Authority, county school systems, architectural and engineering firms, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and Department of Education staff,” Elswick noted. “I can’t recall a single dissenting voice when we drafted the policy. Everyone worked cooperatively to improve the health of students and employees in West Virginia’s schools.”
Elswick said that the legislation enabled the Department of Education to employ a first-rate team of experienced technicians who visit schools, identify indoor air quality problems and determine solutions. Three technicians, the first of whom was hired in August 1999, serve as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and facilities consultants for the counties.
“Our team members complement each other very well,” he continued. “Their varied backgrounds enable them to attack a problem from different viewpoints with the ultimate goal of making schools healthier. Each of these technicians has over 20 years of extensive experience in areas ranging from HVAC issues, construction, operations and maintenance. Their assistance is certainly welcomed and appreciated by county school systems.”
Elswick said that West Virginia was among the first states to address the emerging issue of indoor air quality in schools. To date, technicians have provided assistance to over 75 of the state’s schools.
“It’s easy to find problems, but our team finds solutions,” he said. “Many problems can be solved without costing schools any money, while others require investments in equipment or repairs. While our goal is to improve the quality of indoor air, we have also discovered that the steps we take often improve energy efficiency, too.”
Elswick explained that technicians have identified and eliminated numerous deficiencies in schools, ranging from broken air handling equipment to closed dampers on HVAC equipment. He noted that technicians have identified problems in aging facilities and newly-constructed schools.
According to Elswick, representatives from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to shadow technicians within the next month to learn more about West Virginia’s model program.
To help inform facility managers and HVAC operators about indoor air quality issues, the Department of Education and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, with support from the EPA, are sponsoring a seminar on March 21-22 in Charleston.