How good are the Benicia Schools’ HVAC Systems?By Roger Straw, March 16, 2021
On February 26, a Benicia resident asked an intriguing question on Nextdoor:
How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems? Before we expel school board members and chop up the teachers union, how up – to date & how well maintained our our school’s hvac systems? If it costs approx $300,000 to recall a board member can we put that money into upgrading the schools’ hvac systems and hiring more janitors instead?
The Nextdoor question had obvious political implications, with which, incidentally, I agree wholeheartedly. Our school infrastructure, supplies and services for teachers and students are so important. The recent effort to attack and unseat two BUSD trustees is ridiculously expensive ($300,000!) and the recall is also misguided in intent, targeting two fine Trustees, including the School Board President. EVERYONE please DO NOT SIGN THE RECALL PETITION!
But… what stood out to me was the opening question, “How good are the Benicia Schools HVAC systems?”
I wondered if anyone has a good answer to that question. A little research uncovered that Benicia’s 2014 Ballot Measure S included significant provisions for upgrading the District’s HVAC systems.
So I dug around and found that I could write to Roxanne Egan, the Bond Director for Benicia Unified School District.
I emailed Ms. Egan some tough questions, and got a thorough response. Here is my opening contextual statement and my four questions:
Given the pandemic guidelines’ strong call for good ventilation and heating/AC in schools before returning to in-person learning, I would like to know some details:
- What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?
- What improvements have been made to BUSD HVAC systems in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Has the BUSD received specific federal and state guidance on HVAC recommendations and requirements in order to provide safe space as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and if so, what are those recommendations and requirements?
- In what particulars are BUSD schools up to HVAC standards proposed by the CDC and the CA Department of Health, and in what particulars are we still deficient?
Ms. Egan and directors of several other BUSD departments were thorough in gathering information that would address my questions. I received a two-page letter from Ms. Egan and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations on March 11. After the opening thank you, Egan and Romero answered each question, beginning with the first:
What has been done to improve BUSD HVAC systems since passage of Measure S in 2014?
- Measure S has funded HVAC improvements including the replacement of over 28 HVAC units, service and repairs to existing HVAC units, upgrades to HVAC economizers, which are the mechanical assembly that responds to the thermostat “demand” to allow fresh air intake. In addition to Measure S funding, BUSD received State Proposition 39 funding through the California Energy Commission for qualified energy improvements which included thermostat upgrades at all schools. The upgraded thermostats provide the ability to remotely access the thermostats including the ability to monitor fresh air intake and allow maintenance operators to increase and decrease the fresh air minimums based on ambient conditions. The minimums for fresh air intake are consistent with state building codes and during the COVID-19 pandemic, these minimums may be exceeded to introduce a larger amount of fresh air.
The letter goes on like this. I find it on the one hand reassuring, but on the other, rather general and couched in technical language that leaves me wondering. I’m guessing the public might still have questions. Please read the whole letter, and see if you agree.
READ THE LETTER from Roxanne Egan, Bond Director, and Alfredo Romero, Director of Maintenance and Operations, March 11, 2021.
If not for the pandemic, parents and grandparents like me could all gather in a school auditorium and ask questions, or maybe even get a guided tour with HVAC examples. I wonder if the District could convene a ZOOM meeting and interact with us on these and other in-person learning issues that concern us.