The Second “VanZelm” Report For FLHS Clears Up Many Issues, But Still Leaves Some With Questions

The+Second+%22VanZelm%22+Report+For+FLHS+Clears+Up+Many+Issues%2C+But+Still+Leaves+Some+With+Questions

Elias Moyse, News Editor

After several investigations and despite many successful repairs, some questions still remain about the validity and safety of our HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) System at FLHS, even while a myriad of health authorities claim this is one of the main things necessary in the school to keep students safe.

As other pressing issues faced by our school have seized the collective consciousness of Fairfield Ludlowe High School, many have forgotten about the major issues in our building that were once a priority for a number of community members; with such a packed and literally newsworthy year, this is understandable.

Though the slow fade of murmurs about FLHS air quality might suggest to some that issues with our school’s air quality have completely resolved themselves, a new report published by VanZelm Engineers Incorporated suggests something slightly different. Conclusions made in the report do confirm that many fixes and improvements have been made to the air conditioning system, referred to from here on out as “HVAC System”, but the conclusions made still leave some doubts about the HVAC system’s compliance with state and national guidelines and recommendations.

For some background, this new VanZelm report is the second of its kind and is meant to essentially serve as an “after picture” for the first one. The VanZelm Corporation was hired by the Fairfield Public Schools district to perform an unbiased and third-party investigation into the quality of the HVAC system at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, and publish a report for the Board of Education and the general public regarding the effectiveness of this system.

A team from the VanZelm Corporation visited the school to complete the necessary investigation and observation for the first report on August 13th and 14th. After these investigations, they drafted their report, with a list of concerns for the District to address. This list was split between IAQ (indoor air quality) items and maintenance issues. Though this is not a definition supplied by an expert, a thorough reading of both reports suggests an IAQ issue specifically refers to air quality issues in the building and recommends an improvement of this air quality. Maintenance issues are specific fixes to the HVAC system and different units in said system. Though these issues may not affect air filtration, the report outlines that they should nevertheless be completed. 

There were 48 IAQ issues and 37 maintenance issues from the initial report, which essentially stated that the FLHS HVAC system needed a lot of work. After this report, members of the community were concerned about the air quality at the school, especially as the threat of COVID was exacerbated by a hybrid return to school.

On January 11th, members of the school community submitted a list of items that they were still concerned about regarding the school’s air quality issues. After the submission of this list, maintenance staff worked to rectify these issues, eventually culminating in a secondary report done by the VanZelm Corporation to confirm this maintenance had been completed.

Here is where the contents of this report are interesting: out of the 48 IAQ issues that were raised by the community, all 48 were addressed. Out of the 37 Maintenance issues raised by the community, 31 were addressed, and the other 6 were put on the “Maintenance Punch List,” otherwise known as the to-do list for maintenance staff.

From a cursory glance, it appears that the District and School did a very good job of taking care of air quality issues at FLHS. Though it can not be disputed that they did a great job of completing or addressing everything on the list of concerns, a further investigation may suggest there are still some issues.

The VanZelm report states that the VanZelm Engineers “believe that the District has made a good faith effort to make and maintain a safe and healthy indoor air environment for the students and teachers at Fairfield Ludlowe High School,” but never confirms that they were successful in making this a  healthy environment.

An anonymous source also provided the Prospect with contents of an email exchange with Angelus Papageorge, Executive Director of Maintenance and Facilities for Fairfield Public Schools. In one email,   Papageorge states, “I cannot tell you if the building does or does not meet code,” referring to the minimum ventilation requirements listed under Connecticut Building Code. This response was issued after the other participant in the email exchange asked Papageorge point-blank whether the building complied with Connecticut Building Standards.

It can also be stipulated that the FLHS building does not comply with ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) and DPH (Department of Public Health) COVID-19 recommendations, as these are both considerably higher bars than the aforementioned Connecticut Building Code.

It seems, for the time being, questions still remain about the compliance of air quality in FLHS, whether or not all of the concerns listed by the community have been addressed by Fairfield Public Schools. Based on public information, there are currently no plans to further investigate the air quality at FLHS or improve the existing conditions, other than the 6 unaddressed concerns from the parent list, as well as a retro-commissioning of the HVAC system. This retrofitting might be very promising for the air quality of FLHS and has secured funding, but a timeline has yet to be established, and work might not even start until the summer.