Josh Breau, Lewiston Public Schools facilities director, points out the Unit Ventilator on the ceiling of one of the classrooms in the Longley Building. With the exception of four small rooms, all classroom spaces have similar ventilators. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Airflow in local schools was good enough before the pandemic, but some spaces now need upgrades to help protect students and staff from the airborne coronavirus.

Lewiston Public Schools Facilities Director Josh Breau told the School Committee this week that all classrooms were being assessed for adequate ventilation.

In short, he said, “The high school is pretty bad, the middle school is pretty good, Montello (Elementary School) is probably average and the others seem to be doing OK.”

He said ventilation systems in parts of the basement, the cafeteria and the multipurpose room at Lewiston High School were “currently inoperable.”

The only guidance from the Maine Department of Education is that systems are “adequate,” he said.

“There are no numbers (from the state), not a certain amount of air exchange per hour or amount per person,” Breau said. “We just have to maximize the outside air as much as we can.”

Some classrooms are modified closets and storage spaces that have no windows, “no healthy exchange of air,” Chief Administrative Officer Bobbi Avery said. “It is recycled air.”

Jake Langlais, acting superintendent of the Lewiston School District, shows the former principal’s office in the Longley Building, which has no ventilation units. The department has opted not to use the four small rooms in the building with no ventilation. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Acting Superintendent Jake Langlais said Wednesday that Siemens, an HVAC company contracted to assess the buildings, had found one space at the Longley Building that had no ventilation.

“We have opted not to use that space,” he said.

He said the company’s eventual report would include ways to improve ventilation.

“Our plan right now is to work within the guidelines the state has issued,” Langlais said.

Breau told the School Committee that a map of the district had been marked with “big red X’s on spaces that do not have any ventilation via a ducted system or have a unit ventilator in a classroom that is not working.”

On Thursday, he deferred questions about the map and a request for a copy to Langlais, who did not respond.

Schools have been closed since mid-March to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Lewiston School Committee voted 5-4 on Monday to reopen schools with a hybrid model that places students in classrooms two days a week and requires remote instruction the other three days.

One group of students will attend Monday and Tuesday and the other will get in-person lessons Thursday and Friday. Schools will be closed Wednesday for cleaning and sanitizing.

The committee also voted to delay the start of school to Sept. 14 to give teachers more time to prepare.

Classes will begin Sept. 14 in Auburn, also. The School Committee voted last week to offer families choices: Send kids to school two days a week, four days a week or keep them home for fully remote instruction.

The committee voted Wednesday to delay the opening from Aug. 31, in part because Edward Little High School’s ventilation system needs “significant” improvements, Superintendent Connie Brown said.

“Concerns have been voiced by parents and staff about the poor air circulation and high heat in the building,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

She said part of the $2.9 million the district received in COVID relief funds would be used to pay Siemens to upgrade the ventilation system. The district also will work with a local vendor to have filters and air purification systems installed.

The work could not be done sooner because the funds were not released by the Maine DOE until late July, she said.

She said Thursday that vendors will evaluate and make any needed repairs to EL’s unit ventilators. The units circulate outside air through classrooms.

“Vendors are also evaluating air handlers to ensure they are circulating the proper amount of fresh air,” she said. “Our vendors anticipate being able to have the repair work done before the start of school.”

The district also is evaluating proposals to add ventilation to rooms that do not have unit ventilators and plans to address the most critical areas (those without outside windows) before the start of school, Brown said.

Increasing ventilation, the amount of outdoor air coming indoors, is an important approach to lowering concentrations of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“When used along with other best practices recommended by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and others, increasing ventilation can be part of a plan to protect people indoors,” according to the EPA.

It noted that the rate of ventilation should be based on the number of people in an indoor space.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.