Canberra’s public schools have been told by ACT Health to improve ventilation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but the national capital’s older sites find it harder to breathe than others.
Historic Ainslie School is a prime example as the second oldest school site in the ACT implements its Indoor Air Quality Plan.
The age of the building poses particular challenges and a contractor has been brought in to inspect mechanical and electrical upgrades to improve air flow.
An ACT Education Directorate spokesperson said the 84-year-old building was designed before the introduction of mechanical ventilation.
“We are currently investigating the best way of providing mechanical ventilation while protecting the heritage of the structure,” the spokesperson said.
Immediate short-term upgrades including extraction fans have been made to improve ventilation but the school needs a long-term solution without damaging any part of the heritage-listed building.
The spokesperson said most ACT public schools were being assessed for ventilation upgrades or having work done. He said other older schools such as Telopea Park or Red Hill would also be likely candidates for special attention.
The spokesperson said there were no plans for air purifiers to be deployed as had been done in other states.
“Given the good natural ventilation in ACT public schools, the routine use of portable HEPA [high efficiency particulate air] filters and portable carbon dioxide monitors across all ACT schools is not supported at this time.
“The evidence for the additional public health benefit of these units over other public health measures and maximising fresh air is currently limited.
“The Education Directorate will continue to be guided by ACT Health and AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] advice, and the evolving evidence on the specific benefit of these devices, in addition to other public health measures in a school setting.”
Fifty ACT public schools now have carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors with 15 more to be installed at other sites.
Other measures to improve air quality in ACT schools include opening windows in classrooms; programming ventilation systems to introduce additional fresh air; operating for longer hours; and turning on exhaust fans in rest rooms.
All windows have been checked to make sure they can be opened and UV-C light units have been installed in air-conditioning systems at priority sites such as preschools and spaces where mechanical ventilation is limited.
The spokesperson said UV-C light had been used extensively in health settings to deactivate viruses and bacteria, and the directorate had selected units that did not produce ozone to ensure student safety.
The Ainslie School’s Indoor Air Quality Plan states that increasing the fresh air to classrooms may increase energy costs and classrooms will be warmer or cooler than normal depending on the weather outside, a further challenge given Canberra’s climate extremes.
It is also limiting teaching options with the school having to prioritise properly ventilated spaces.
The heritage-listed school’s original 1927 building in Elouera Street is occupied by the Ainslie Arts Centre after it ceased being part of the school in 1979.
The current school building was built in 1938.