|By Ivan Raconteur, Staff Writer
Lester Prairie School District is in the process of a major renovation project that includes upgrading heating, ventilation, and lighting systems. These changes are likely to make the school more comfortable, but they may also improve student performance.
The board’s decision to move forward with the project was based, in part, on information provided by Energy Services Group (ESG), a company with which the district has contracted for the project.
ESG provided a report outlining some ways in which the school facility can affect student performance.
According to the report, the US General Accounting Office found that 15,000 schools suffer from poor indoor air quality, affecting one out of every five students in US schools.
Many schools have air handling systems that deliver less air than is now considered adequate.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards call for ventilation rates of 15 to 20 cubic feet of air per minute per person. These rates deliver more adequate supplies of fresh air, and help to dilute or remove contaminants, especially chemical (e.g., formaldehyde, toluene, and styrene) and biological (e.g., mold and bacteria).
According to the report, children are six times more vulnerable to air pollutants than adults.
The American Lung Association found that in the US, children miss more than 10 million school days each year due to asthma exacerbated by poor indoor air quality.
The report references a study that showed improving air quality reduced absenteeism.
The report also suggested that increased carbon dioxide levels in classrooms owing to poor ventilation decreased student performance on concentration tests and increased students’ complaints of health problems as compared to classes with lower carbon dioxide levels.
When carbon dioxide concentration levels reach 1,000 parts per million (about three times the level normally found in the atmosphere), it can result in headaches, drowsiness, and the inability to concentrate, according to the report.
The project in Lester Prairie includes replacement of the majority of the ventilation systems throughout the building, including improvements to the ventilation and exhaust systems in the kitchen and cafeteria, and new supply and return air duct work.
The project also involves replacement of the school’s old steam boilers with high-efficiency steam boilers and new digital boiler controls.
Modern controls will not only help the district save money by improving energy efficiency, they will help keep the building more comfortable.
According to the report, researchers have determined that temperature range is associated with learning. The best temperature range for learning reading and math is 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit.
The ability to learn these subjects is adversely affected by temperatures higher than 74 degrees.
The new boiler and controls will make it easier to regulate the building temperature.
Other parts of the project include installation of new ceiling and lighting systems in some areas.
The district has also incurred significant expenses for abatement of asbestos, which has been removed throughout the project area.
The project is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the new school year.