Whitehall City Schools implements air-quality plan

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Maleek Cooper, an eighth-grader at Whitehall City Schools' Rosemore Middle School, works on a science project Sept. 25 in the classroom of teacher Adrianna Cole. About 2,800 students resumed hybrid in-person learning more than a month ago, and district leaders said they have been pleased with the early results during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

About 2,800 Whitehall City Schools students resumed hybrid in-person learning more than a month ago.

District leaders said they have been pleased with the early results during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and have implemented safety measures to help.

“It’s been going well for the most part,” said Ty Debevoise, director of communications and marketing for the district. “Students are following the guidelines and we have been pleasantly surprised.”

The students returned Sept. 21 to the district’s five buildings.

The district has 3,400 students, but about 600 enrolled in exclusive online classes – known as Track C – leaving the remaining 2,800 on tracks A and B, Debevoise said.

Those students attend classes either Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays, and every other Monday.

Students wear masks, and desks in the classroom are separated, Debevoise said.

“We were worried about our youngest students having trouble with wearing masks, but that’s been going OK, too," he said.

The district is expected to remain in the hybrid mode based on multiple data points, even though Franklin County on Oct. 15 returned to the "red" Level 3 on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, Debevoise said Oct. 20.

In an effort to make the buildings as safe as possible, the district instituted an indoor air-quality-control plan, said Dave Hausmann, director of operations for the district.

The plan is in place at Whitehall-Yearling High School, Rosemore Middle School and Beechwood, Etna Road and Kae Avenue elementary schools, including the Early Literacy Campus.

The plan provides for running all the buildings in “occupied mode” 24-7 rather than reverting to a “night setback” that normally would be used, Hausmann said.

It also provides for running all exhaust fans and air dampers on the roofs of buildings continuously, Hausmann said.

“Teachers will open windows at the end of the school day, (and) they will remain open until our custodial staff closes them before leaving at night," he said.

Hausmann said the plan could remain in place until temperatures fall below about 20 degrees, at which time “some adjustments would need to me made."

“It is understood that this plan is not the most efficient way to run our HVAC systems," he said. "These actions will be hard on our systems and clearly raise energy costs, (but) during this pandemic, it is important to understand that the safety of our staff, students and visitors supersedes efficiency."

Just how much it will raise costs is not clear, Hausmann said.

The district’s costs for the normal operations that are affected by the plan cannot be extracted easily from related but unaffected costs, and it is unknown how much HVAC expenses will increase because of the plan, Hausmann said.

“Forecasts call for a milder and rainy winter, which would help keep the increase lower,” he said.

The plan was formed using the advice of the district’s engineers and those of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Hausmann said.

Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district's protocols appear to be working as designed, and as cooler weather begins, the district has focused on expanding protocols to include the air-quality plan.

"The plan is based on recommendations we received from the mechanical engineers who designed our heating-and-cooling systems," Hamler said.

As of Oct. 21, only 12 students had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year, and it is believed all 12 contracted COVID-19 through community spread and not the classroom, Hamler said.

"We will continue to monitor every possible case and take guidance from Franklin County Public Health to provide the safest learning environment possible," he said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo