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Schools spending millions to upgrade HVAC systems

Northside ISD is just one San Antonio school district planning to use its share of federal coronavirus aid to upgrade air circulation.

SAN ANTONIO — A number of Texas school districts intend to use federal coronavirus aid to upgrade HVAC systems, hoping better circulation will stifle germs when students return to class in the fall. 

The Government Accountability Office reports about roughly 41 percent of American school districts need to upgrade HVAC systems in more than half their schools. In all, it estimates about 36,000 schools have deficient circulation. 

"Circulation is important because it allows us to get the bad things in an indoor environment out of that building," Trane Healthy Spaces sales leader Scott Huffmaster said. "We're bringing in fresh air so we can dilute things like CO2 concentration."

Huffmaster says many schools were designed with smaller class sizes in mind, meaning the HVAC system is operating as if there are fewer pollutant-producing people inside the building. 

Some schools' systems simply need minor repairs, he said. Others need new filtration systems, better system management technology, more vents, and tighter air ducts. 

The goal is to meet the CDC and American Society for Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers' codes for safe circulation. 

Huffmaster says schools may also want to invest in more efficient systems that can save money. He said new technology allows schools to crank up circulation during cold and flu seasons, but relax the systems when sickness isn't spreading. 

"Essentially, what we're doing is thinking, 'Okay, what's the next pandemic look like?'" Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said. His district will use a portion of its $172 million allocation to upgrade HVAC systems. 

Trane professionals recently conducted indoor air quality assessments at Austin ISD schools, helping its board develop a plan for proposed improvements. 

"The interest level is very high," Huffmaster said. 

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