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In-person learning brings an added focus on safety and fresh air in the classroom

COURTESY GRAPHIC: NEWBERG SCHOOL DISTRICT - Each building in the Newberg School District has a different air filtration system, but all our controlled and monitored by a central computer system.

In a matter of weeks, Newberg and Dundee students will begin their return to a classroom setting for hybrid learning and the Newberg School District is focused on minimizing risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those areas of focus is the ventilation systems in schools, which the district says are going to be monitored closely.

The challenge the district faces is that HVAC and the highest quality air filtration systems may not be installed in school buildings due to budget and logistical constraints.

District communications coordinator Gregg Koskela said many families are wondering how the airflow and ventilation systems will work in schools, and if they will be effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. District Operations and Safety Coordinator Larry Hampton added his expertise to a release put out by the district.

"Actually, we are a lot better off in our district than some of the scary stories that are out there in the media for other districts," Hampton said. "We've invested a lot in our systems over the years and we have a highly qualified technician on staff."

Each building in the district has different air filtration systems with different components, because they all weren't built at the same time, Koskela said, adding that each building's system is controlled and monitored by a central computer system. Every room in every building is monitored on this system to make sure the air filtration is meeting health and safety standards.

"Our system is already designed to bring in as much outside air as possible and it allows us to set levels for airflow into every room, as well as the ability to monitor and make sure that airflow is actually happening," Koskela said. "We actually make sure to completely turn over the air in every classroom multiple times every hour. Air goes into the classroom at a set rate and then returns and is mixed with outside air and filtered before being pumped in again."

The district provided detailed diagrams of how the computer system looks and how the air filtration systems are monitored, all of which are available at Newberg.k12.or.us. While the district says it cannot install the best possible air filtration systems under its budget and given the realities of some of its older buildings, officials remain focused on finding ways to keep students safe with clean, highly filtered air.

"Filters in our systems are the best we can purchase for the blowers and vents we have in place," Koskela said. "The only systems that can filter out a virus like COVID are very complicated ones like (those) found in hospital operating rooms. We replace our filters multiple times a year and as we prepare to return to in-person hybrid learning, every filter is fresh and ready for our staff and students.

"Long term, we will carefully explore filtration and other options that might be purchased with the recently passed construction bond. While nothing is a guarantee of complete safety, we expect to be able to improve the air quality in our buildings with new technology."


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