Building Maintenance

Building Maintenance

(updated September 10, 2020)


The health and safety of the Needham community is paramount. Therefore, the Town of Needham and the Needham Public Schools are preparing for the reopening of schools by collaborating on Facility and Maintenance Protocols in the following areas:

-      Physical distancing and space modifications;

-      Cleaning and disinfecting the buildings at Needham Public Schools;

-      Heating, ventilation and air conditioning.


While these protocols are most directly applicable to Needham Public Schools staff and Needham Building Maintenance Division staff, a document has been purposely drafted to be accessible to all members of the Needham Public Schools community. Please reference this Facility and Maintenance Protocol document; note that it is being updated regularly.


In addition, The Town of Needham and the Needham Public Schools (NPS) are taking four approaches to ensure that our schools and classrooms are properly ventilated.  The Town hired engineers to assess HVAC systems in the schools, and the NPS has consulted with researchers from the Schools for Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to understand how we can maximize the environment for learning and ensure proper ventilation, particularly in our older buildings. The NPS will also bring on board an environmental testing firm to assist us in checking for appropriate airflow and ventilation in classrooms across the district and during the course of the school year. Finally, we will deploy a team of professionals to assess emergency situations that may arise in the schools. Details on these approaches are described below.

Town of Needham HVAC Assessments and Repairs:

The Town of Needham Building Maintenance Division (BMD) has hired two engineering firms to assess the HVAC systems in all but the Sunita L. Williams Elementary School which has most recently been constructed and commissioned.  The purpose of the assessments was to ensure all systems are working as designed and to identify areas requiring repair or maintenance.  The assessments have been completed, and the BMD has deployed Town staff and has hired contractors who have been making necessary repairs based on the assessments and will continue to make needed repairs until they are complete. Further, as repairs are completed, the engineers will provide Testing, Adjusting, & Balancing (TAB) with written reports indicating appropriate airflow and ventilation in each school and room.  This work will continue through September.

The BMD has provided us with information regarding the current status of each building: September 10th HVAC Summary  and this report is being reviewed by the Joint Committee on Health and Safety.

The Town of Needham has ordered, and in several cases has already received and is installing MERV 13 filters  in all schools.  If a MERV 13 filter is placed in an older school’s Unit ventilator (univent) system (e.g., Pollard) and it turns out the univent does not have the motor capacity to circulate the air through the filter, the motor will be adjusted if feasible or the filter will be replaced with a MERV 8 filter.  Additional measures, including opening windows and doors and the placement of appropriately sized HEPA filters will also be utilized in those circumstances. The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection has additional information about indoor air quality in schools: EPA: Indoor Air Quality in Schools.

Collaboration with Harvard: 

The Needham Public Schools is collaborating with researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to better understand how we can support healthy school buildings and school transportation with an emphasis on ventilation and airflow to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  Our collaboration with Harvard has been done in conjunction with the work the Town is doing to assess the HVAC systems in the schools; the findings from Harvard will complement the work being done by the Town to ensure we can provide and maintain appropriate airflow, particularly in our older schools.  The report, entitled Measuring and Estimating Outdoor Air Ventilation Rates in Classrooms  provided data, insight, and recommendations for us to consider ways to increase airflow in classrooms at Pollard.  The researchers said that we can generalize the findings to other schools with similar systems, like Mitchell.

The researchers suggested that while airflow in certain Pollard classrooms was below the standard target for air exchange rate of four air exchanges (ACH) per hour, the rate of ventilation and airflow significantly increased with some windows and doors opened.  Furthermore, the researchers said that increasing the mechanical system’s output (i.e., turn the motor up) would increase airflow as well.  In the winter, air purifiers such as HEPA filters could also be utilized to help with overall ventilation.

In conversations with the Town of Needham and the Harvard researchers, we determined that while the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard is 4 ACH, we are striving for a standard of 4 to 6 ACH believing that increased airflow will be beneficial to our students and staff, especially when accompanied by other risk mitigating measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, and increased hygiene.


The Harvard team also reviewed our school bus transportation program and concluded that a combination of physical distancing on the bus (one child per seat versus three - or two siblings per seat), mask wearing, additional cleaning, and opening some windows at least three inches all provided increased ventilation and airflow, mitigating the spread of the virus.  With thanks to Dr. Memo Cedeño and Dr. Jack Spengler, their study can be found here: Preliminary Findings of Ventilation Rates in an NPS Bus   Additionally, the researchers recently penned an op-ed about reopening schools published in the Washington Post: Washington Post August 27th Opinion: Want to Buy Schools Time? Open Windows


Testing Classrooms and Schools: 

While the Town of Needham will continue TAB testing to provide data on airflow and ventilation in each school space, the Needham Public Schools will hire a separate consultant to assess sample and individual classrooms in each school to determine if they meet the 4 to 6 ACH. We anticipate the consultant beginning work the week of August 31st and providing us with preliminary reports  by September 11th.  We will also engage the consultant through the fall to advise us.


We believe the combination of all three of these activities will continue to provide us with the data and information we need to ensure our classrooms and schools are as healthy as possible.  Should a classroom not meet the minimum 4 ACH, the Superintendent will direct the principal to assign students and staff to a location that meets the Needham standard.  Furthermore, we will continue testing throughout the school year, particularly in the winter when we know airflow could be impacted in some classrooms. 

HVAC Rapid Response Team:

In the event a classroom teacher or staff member is experiencing significant problems with indoor air quality, specifically as it relates to ventilation, the staff member will notify the principal who will determine if the issue requires the attention of the BMD.  The principal, in consultation with the Director of Building Maintenance, will ask for the HVAC Rapid Response Team to come to the school/classroom as soon as practical but no later than the end of the school day to assess the issue and, if appropriate, make a plan to address it as soon as possible.  The staff member and principal will receive a response on the disposition of the matter within one school day.

The Rapid Response Team includes:

Steve Gentile, Team Leader & Town of Needham Building Design & Construction

Barry Dulong, Town of Needham BMD Director (or designee)

Katie King, Town of Needham Assistant Town Manager

Tim McDonald, Town of Needham Public Health Director (or designee)

Dan Gutekanst, Superintendent of Schools (or designee)


The Rapid Response Team will be responsible for assessing the situation and deploying the necessary resources to address any problems as soon as possible.  Further, the Team Leader, Steve Gentile, will be responsible for communicating action and plans back to the school principal within the next school day.

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