By Makenzie O'Keefe

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver Public Schools will welcome students back to the classroom for in-person learning in about a month, but concerns remain about how to protect kids and staff during the pandemic. That’s why DPS is putting close to $5 million toward HVAC improvements, to help with air flow and filtration in the classroom.

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“We’re doing everything possible,” explained Michael O’Keeffe, the Deputy Chief of Operations with DPS. “We understand the safety and concerns.”

O’Keeffe said they have looked into many possibilities, but decided ventilation upgrades would be the one of the strongest things they could do for students and staff, when looking at ways to make the learning environment safe amidst a pandemic. They worked with engineering firms and internal HVAC and nursing teams to come to that conclusion.

“One of the best options we could possibly do was maximize the intake of air from the outside , but also increasing the filtration levels to maximum possible capacity of the system so that our schools could handle,” O’Keeffe said.

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Every school in the district will be assessed by engineers, making necessary repairs and upgrades, cleaning the equipment and upgrading air filters in the classrooms.

O’Keeffe said the average age of their schools is 52, and right now, the rating of air filters in their buildings are MERV 8. MERV ratings measure the ability of an air filter to capture particles. The upgrades will put DPS schools in the category of MERV 11 and MERV 13.

MERV 13 is recommended by the CDC if possible.

He said teams will first tackle schools without AC, and schools in areas with the highest equity rates. The schools without AC won’t be getting AC, but rather improved ventilation for air filtration.

“You typically can’t see that stuff,” O’Keeffe explained. “It’s behind walls, it’s down in the bowels of buildings. But in no way should that make it underestimate how important it is relative to the well-being of the staff and students in those schools.”

(credit: CBS)

The plan is, if possible, to use money from the CARES Act to pay for the $4.9 million worth of upgrades. If the district cannot use federal aid, O’Keeffe said  they will use leftover funds from a 2016 voter-approved bond measure.

They hope to have all schools upgraded HVAC systems up and running by Aug. 17.

Makenzie O'Keefe

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