Pittsfield Council Queries Mayor About Schools' Air Purification
Update Feb. 16: The public schools ordered 750 air purifications filters, one for every classroom, of which 150 have been deployed in anticipation of students returning to in-person learning. Interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis said the filters were purchased through grants from the State Coronavirus Prevention Fund Program or ESSER II Funds (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund).
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council voted to send a petition from Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey and Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi to Mayor Linda Tyer requesting that the city use CARES Act funds to purchase high-efficiency particulate air filtration units for all district classrooms.
This project is estimated to cost around $900,000 based on comparable school districts that have already installed the units. According to Pittsfield's Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood, the city has around $2.8 million of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding left, as the city has only used around $900,000 to date.
The motion passed with 10 council members voting in favor and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi abstaining.
"I think that we should have implemented this already before we allowed our vocational and special education department to go back," Kavey said.
In Tuesday's meeting, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio addressed Tyer on the matter, asking if the school department has investigated the cost of improving air quality in schools before resuming in-person learning, to which she did not have a detailed answer.
Tyer said she will provide the council with a written, detailed response on all of the district's precautionary actions taken place to date in addition to responding to Kavey and Lampiasi's petition no later than the next City Council meeting.
"Councilor, as I said, there have been actions taken within our school buildings regarding air filtration, I was not prepared to get into a detailed response this evening," she replied. "But I would be happy to do that in writing to all of you so that the information that you have is accurate."
Kavey said he spoke with two municipalities — Northampton and Holyoke — that spent around $900,000 of CARES Act funding to make sure they had the right number of filters to cover every classroom in their district.
Holyoke installed about 400 filters into its district and Northampton needed about 300. Kavey estimated that with the size of Pittsfield Public School's district and the age of its schools, the project would cost around $900,000.
In its 2020 reopening plan, the city of Northampton made a promise to increase ventilation and air quality in schools and administrative buildings to ensure the safety of returning staff and students, he said. Northampton is still in a period of remote learning and was able to carry out this promise by modifying HVAC and installing HEPA filters to ensure that fresh air is being brought in and circulated.
After learning of the other municipalities' implementations, Kavey said he figured that there was a similar plan in place for Pittsfield Public Schools, yet after further research was unable to find any press on the matter or get a response from the city.
"A day after I saw that the School Committee was allowing our vocational departments to go back and I reached out to the city and didn't get a response on whether or not we have upgraded our air filtration systems," he said. "So I was looking on the internet trying to find articles or any kind of press release on whether or not we have done anything like this and I wasn't able to find anything."
Guiel Lampiasi reported that the use of air purification has proven to be effective in the fight against COVID-19, adding that this extra layer of protection has been well researched.
"Our teachers and our students, they need to know that they are going back to a safe space, and the science that we have up to this moment is that air purification systems are essential in this assurance," she said.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III appreciated Kavey and Guiel Lampiasi's research and consideration of Pittsfield children but said the council needs to get more information from Tyer because there is no way to put a price tag on the project.
"I actually do this in my day job," Persip said. "The only thing that can get out coronavirus is a Merv 13 filter and above in an HVAC system. HEPA filters do not stop the coronavirus, so I want to make sure people understand that."
Persip suggested that they also get a rundown of the district's existing HVAC systems to determine if they could handle a Merv 13 filter. Additionally, he said they may run into a problem actually obtaining the filters on short notice, claiming they are currently near impossible to get.
"I think this is an opportunity to refer this off to the Mayor and let her get information so we have a better price tag of what this would cost," Persip concluded.
Tags: COVID-19, HVAC, Pittsfield Public Schools,
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