Building Maintenance

Building Maintenance

(updated April 13, 2021)

For information on ventilation in our 8 school buildingsgo to:
Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing Report 

The Town of Needham Building Maintenance Division, the Town of Needham Building Design and Construction, and outside contractors confirm that the schools are “good to go” and spaces, with few exceptions, have met our standard for ventilation/HVAC in our school buildings.


This webpage provides Needham families, staff, and the community with an overview and update on improvements to the Needham Public Schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the building maintenance that supports the health and safety of students, teachers, faculty and staff through this school year.


Though research is still evolving about COVID-19, most studies suggest that the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks – and less frequently through surface-to-surface contact. Even so, both the Town of Needham and NPS recognize the increased importance of cleaning and disinfection during the pandemic. To that end, the Town of Needham and NPS have established cleaning and disinfection protocols for all staff in the following document: Preparing for the Reopening of Our Schools: Facility and Maintenance Protocols.


In addition, The Town of Needham and Needham Public Schools are taking four approaches to ensure that our schools and classrooms are properly ventilated. The Town hired outside contractors (including Rist-Frost-Shuman Engineering, Consulting Engineering Services, ENE, Mechanical Air Controls, and TG Gallagher) to recommission school buildings, make necessary repairs, and ensure that students have sufficient ventilation and filtration in classrooms this fall. The district 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 Needham Public Schools also brought on board a third-party consulting firm, Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc., to review measurements and help ensure spaces are prepared for students. 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:

To date, contractors and consultants have made progress or completed the following tasks:

-      Create a prioritized list of corrective maintenance necessary for each school’s HVAC system;

-      Conduct mechanical repairs;

-      Reprogram Building Maintenance Systems so that systems run with increased outside air and operate from 6:00am to 10:00pm Monday through Saturday;

-      Verify TAB measurements (Testing, Adjusting, & Balancing) and evaluate air-exchange rates with windows open and closed using tracer gas testing in select buildings. TAB results are explained below.


Two of the Town’s contractors have evaluated the status of all the HVAC systems in the schools. The Town has received a list of all items in need of repair and has been working during the weekdays, nights, and weekends to address these items. Although some corrective maintenance will not be completed by the opening of school, any repairs and modifications that are necessary to ensure proper airflow will be completed. Remaining corrective maintenance will continue after school hours, on weekends, and on Wednesdays when all students are remote.


The Town is installing MERV 13 filters  in schools. If a MERV 13 filter is placed in an older school’s  Unit ventilator (univent) system (e.g., Pollard and Mitchell) 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.


The Town has been publishing weekly updates with progress on all ventilation related repairs. These reports are reviewed by the Joint Committee on Health and Safety. This Committee was established to advise and guide decisions around school health and safety, including the evaluation of the agreed upon metrics for closing and reopening schools.


Collaboration with Harvard: 

The Needham Public Schools collaborated 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.  The findings from Harvard complement the work being done by the Town to ensure we can provide and maintain appropriate airflow, particularly in our older schools.  Their 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 explained that we can generalize the findings to other schools with similar systems, like the Mitchell School.


The researchers suggested that while airflow in certain Pollard classrooms was below the recommended  target for air exchange rate of four air changes (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) calls for an airflow which is the equivalent of 2.8 air changes per hour (ACH), we have established a benchmark 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 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, Adjusting, and Balancing Results in Classrooms and Schools: 

To ensure that airflow in classrooms met the recommended four air changes per hour, the Town of Needham contracted with multiple engineering firms to conduct Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing (TAB). The Town continues TAB testing to provide data on airflow and ventilation in each school space. The most recent TAB REPORT FROM APRIL 13, 2021 includes an update on all schools.


To independently measure and validate the TAB results, Needham Public Schools hired an outside consulting firm, Environmental Health & Engineering, to conduct tracer gas testing in a subset of classrooms and measure the additional airflow provided from windows so that NPS could apply a generalized statement to all rooms with windows. The EH&E team conducted the tracer gas measurements at Mitchell Elementary School on September 4, Pollard Middle School on September 8, and Needham High School on September 9. Across the 23 rooms tested, EH&E drew these conclusions: Tracer gas measurements, with windows closed, were found to be largely consistent with Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing (TAB) results, with slight differences accountable to changes in weather. Tracer gas measurements with windows open demonstrated that the act of opening windows would at least double the air exchange rate. It is important to note that tracer gas tests only measure the air exchange rate provided by outside air ventilation. As discussed above, the recommendation from the Harvard Chan School of 4 ACH of clean air includes outside air plus portable HEPA filtered air or recirculated air filtered at MERV 13 or higher. The final air exchange for the schools will include outside air as well as filtered air.


Should a classroom not meet the recommended 4 ACH of clean air, the Needham Public Schools Superintendent will direct the school principal to assign students and staff to a location that meets the Needham standard. The Town will work with contractors to improve ventilation of clean air. Remedial steps may include opening windows with screens and the use of portable HEPA filters. Furthermore, we will continue testing through the fall and into 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, prepare 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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