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Providence Financial


By Dan Cook, DCA Architects

The latest round of building code changes is having a significant impact on the design of our schools throughout the United States. The largest change is in the mechanical code which has increased the amount of fresh air required in high occupancy spaces. High occupancy spaces are defined as those which have more than 300 students in attendance such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, multi-purpose centers, and auditoriums. In addition, the amount of fresh air required for classrooms has almost doubled. This is creating an impact on both the air quality in our new schools and the costs of constructing these buildings under the current codes. The benefits to our educational systems are immense. Poor air quality is now recognized as a growing problem in many school facilities. Some buildings actually had to be torn down because the problems could not be fixed. Others had to be vacated while millions of dollars in renovation took place. 

Poor air quality can lead to allergies, common colds, nausea, bloody noses, lethargy, headaches, and dizziness. A recent Environment Protection Agency study showed that one half of our nation’s 115,000 schools have problems linked to indoor air quality. The rate of absenteeism has been on an increase, and our students are at tremendous risk because of the hours spent in school facilities and because younger children are more susceptible to pollutants. 

A recent Environment Protection Agency study showed that one half of our nation’s 115,000 schools have problems linked to indoor air quality. 

Many things can be done in the design of a building to both mitigate the problem and reduce the financial impact of poor air quality. Multiple heating, ventilating, and air conditioning units can be designed into a school rather than a central plant. This leads to lower initial investment and permits the monitoring of temperatures in various zones. These units should be equipped with the ability to exchange air easily and economically with the outside source. These are commonly known as economizers and are essential under today’s standards of ventilation. In addition, we need to extract moisture from the air before it gets inside of our buildings, use ultra-violet treatment of incoming air to kill mold spores, and provide an anti-microbial spray to the interior surfaces of the building, which will not allow mold or bacteria to live inside our schools.

During construction we need to be sensitive to proper caulking of windows, doors, and other penetrations in our buildings. We must prevent moisture from ever reaching wall cavities or other dark spaces where mold can grow and multiply. The type of roof constructed can have an incredible impact on future problems with mold in our buildings. Today we have roof systems which will last 40–50 years and wall panels which are mold resistant. As we look at the real needs of our students in this ever-changing world we live in, it is imperative to assess the indoor air quality of the buildings we construct and address this problem with the most cost-effective solutions.

For information contact John Cox, DCA Architects—801-409-1076, jcox@dcagroup.com