Niles Schools reap unintentional benefits of multi-million dollar bond

NOW: Niles Schools reap unintentional benefits of multi-million dollar bond

NILES, Mich. -  This week on The Learning Curve we are tackling a problem that most of us deal with at home. The air conditioner.

You might be wondering what an air conditioning system has to do with students learning amidst a pandemic... Well, our team went 20 minutes North to Niles Community Schools to find the answer.

As you walk into Ring Lardner Middle School in Niles and see the empty halls, it's hard to imagine anything has changed over the last year. Except when passing social distancing signs and hand sanitizers everywhere.

School officials are seen doing everything they can to make sure kids are safe learning in-person. But there is also a hidden safety net many don't necessarily see walking through the halls.

It's something you may notice going into a classroom. A large mechanical box sat in the corner of the room.

You see, the district bought 200 plus HVAC systems for smaller spaces like classrooms and 20 to 25 bigger HVAC systems for larger spaces like cafeterias.

“So this is a typical space. This is a unit," Lewis Evans, the Director of Operations said. “Every classroom, every teaching space has its own individual unit. The large common areas like we were just in, have a rooftop one."

The systems remove stale air from inside and circulate fresh air from outside.

“So it's continually changing the air, we get about five to six air changes per hour," Evans said.

To get all of the equipment needed to update the district's HVAC system, school officials applied for a bond in 2015.

“A bond was approved. We were very happy. And what we wanted to do was wanted to bring, you know, state of the art equipment here, somebody has had some longevity and last 20, 25 years, you know and make sure that we could have good air quality in the rooms, great air quality was the number one importance, and then creature comfort was in there," he said. “We spent 30 million on mechanicals. And the other 10 million we've spent for you know, flooring and things you see it here refurbishment.”

It changes the air four to five times an hour.

"In each classroom, in the space. In large spaces, such as the cafeteria, here we have co2 detectors are sensors that sense the number of people in the room. So for co2 gets too high, it can modulate and bring in more fresh air," Evans said.

The 200 plus state-of-the-art systems were originally meant to just replace the old ones that were put in over 60 years ago.

“They were about 60 to 63. So they're a bit difficult. So yeah, definitely, definitely serve their time," Kevin Mercado, the Lead of Maintenance said.

But now with the COVID19 pandemic, officials with the school district are truly realizing this system’s value.

"Those older units weren't nearly as efficient as these are. Yeah, so it's a world of difference night day," he said.

The old units also cost a lot of money to keep up.

"We were just getting to a point where we didn't do any repairs. So it was kind of a musty type deal. I'm glad we got it done," he said.

All in all, there is no arguing the importance of air circulation during this time. 

“Very important. The CDC talks about it, he talks about it. And you know, they say the more influx of fresh air you can bring in, the better off you are," Evans said. "What I've done in the COVID days since COVID came on us is I've increased the time in the schedule where before, we would have an eight hour occupied schedule, just to satisfy when people are in the building. I've changed that to 12. Because I want to keep building to building for three or four hours everyone leaves.”

Educators have noticed the change the most.

“The teachers, the teachers tell us all the times, it doesn’t smell stale anymore you know, for sure, really, they really can tell a difference," he said.

But the changes do come at a price.

"It's all designed toward efficiency. And you know, that's one thing. This is going to be our first year, I think, in my opinion, that we were going to be able to see some efficiency savings, but not with COVID. Likely, because we had to increase the schedule," he said.

Staff at Niles believe the timing was everything.

“Yeah, the timing is crazy, because we had no idea. We're so fortunate, you know, there are many, many school systems out there in the country that don't have the opportunity or didn't have the opportunity to be ahead of the game. And we were, you know, by no plan ahead of the game on COVID," Evans said.

Coming up on Thursday our Learning Curve team is following the money - how much has the Niles school district spent on your children?

As always if you have any questions or concerns regarding your school reach out to us at [email protected]

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