Assessment: Cumberland School District’s HVAC system does not meet RI guidance for reopening

CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WLNE) – The Cumberland School Department released the results of its air ventilation inspection On Wednesday.

The district contracted the engineering company E&E Systems to inspect its buildings’ HVAC units. The company inspected 25% of the district’s air vents and found issues with more than 10% of them. According to the findings, none of the vents currently meet the state’s guidance for reopening schools.

Some of the issues the inspectors flagged were vents that were covered by overgrown vegetation.

Other issues noted were HVAC units that were off and not working.

The lead engineer on inspection, Paul Murphy, presented the findings to the Cumberland School Committee at Thursday night’s Zoom meeting.

Murphy said some on the issues can be fixed quickly by buying higher end filters. However, getting their hands on such filters has become a problem now that many other districts are also trying to purchase them to reopen.

“We do have some time if you’re not opening until October. So, hopefully we can turn some of this red into green,” said Murphy.

Meanwhile, a group of students gathered outside Cumberland High School ahead of the committee meeting, calling for a return to school that involves in-person learning.

The Cumberland School Committee voted 4-3 last Thursday to start the school year on Sept. 14 through full distance learning.

“I believe we should have a choice as a school community to go back or not,” said rising senior Owen Molis at the protest.

The students who rallied said they want the committee to vote again now that Governor Gina Raimondo has approved Cumberland School District to reopen for full in-person learning.

“If you want to go back you should have the educational right to go back and achieve your in-person learning,” said Molis.
Many of the students who protested are going into their senior year and don’t want to miss out on the staples of their final year in high school.

“There’s a lot that comes with senior year– you have prom, spirit week, those sorts of events. I think everyone who’s a senior really does want to be in the building socializing with each other,” said rising senior Brendan Johnson.

The students called on the school committee to get creative when solving the ventilation issues.

“We could try other things,” said Jorge Rocha, a senior. “We could have classrooms outside.”

Following the results of the ventilation study, the district’s superintendent recommended preschool and special program students return to school full time in-person on Sept. 14, and that all other students return virtually until the ventilation issues are addressed.

Categories: Back to School, Coronavirus, News, Our Schools, Regional News, Rhode Island