Significant changes are being made at Mora Public Schools to help slow the spread of novel coronavirus as students to return Sept. 8.
Significant shifts underway have to do with buildings, transportation routines and cleaning procedures.
Chip Brandt, Mora Public Schools’ dean of students, transportation director and building and grounds director is the man in charge of it all.
Workers from RJ Mechanical inspected Mora High School’s air handlers last week to make repairs and adjust dampers and louvers.
Brandt said the school is prioritizing getting as much fresh, outdoor air into the building as possible.
But there’s a trick to it.
If the air is too cold and too much brought in, the steam coils responsible for heating the air could freeze.
“Our goal is to bring in the maximum amount of fresh air without having any major malfunctions,” said Brandt.
The other drawback is cost. Cold air from outside takes more energy to heat than recirculating the air already in the building.
“We’re going to have some big energy bills,” said Brandt.
Making adjustments to the ventilation at Mora Elementary School is easy. Brandt said the elementary HVAC system is computer operated and easy to see problems occur —most of which are resolved with the click of a button.
The system at the high school is less sophisticated making monitoring and responding to air issues more complicated.
“At the high school, we’re almost blind,” said Brandt.
In January 2020, the air throughout the Mora High School was tested for concentrations of carbon dioxide. The results were a testament to the difficulty of the building to circulate fresh air.
In every classroom of the fourth floor, CO2 levels exceeded the state’s recommendations of acceptable levels for classrooms of 800-1,200 parts per million. Overall, CO2 levels exceeded 1,200 ppm in one third of the high school building.
Students and staff have also reported drastic variations in temperature throughout the building.
Schools have also been faced with providing adequate space between students while riding the bus.
While plans have not been finalized, Mora schools is considering a staggered schedule between students at the elementary school and students attending the high school.
Tentative plans are for the buses to pick up elementary students first, seating them one per seat, every other seat. Elementary school days would operate starting at 8 a.m.
After dropping them off, buses would run a second route to pick up high school students for their classes to begin at 9 a.m. These students would sit in seats opposite of where the elementary students sat.
The elementary school day would end at 2 p.m., and students returned by bus first. Then buses would return for the high school students at 3 p.m.
Buses would be disinfected between the morning and afternoon routes and again at the end of the day. This is made easier with some newly purchased equipment.
Brandt said they have purchased two electrostatic disinfection machines that improve disinfection of soft and difficult to reach spaces. The machines are in high demand, expensive and difficult to procure.
The machines work by applying a positive electric charge to a disinfecting solution, which is sprayed and attracts to negatively charged surfaces. It creates a fast, even coverage of disinfectant.
Brandt said cleaning routines are also changing. Custodial staff will put a higher focus on cleaning hard surfaces like desks and doorknobs.
Brandt is also working to secure enough equipment to give teachers their own cleaning supplies which they can use to clean as they feel is appropriate between periods or during a prep hour.
These efforts are all to help bring peace of mind to staff, students and their families.
“We’re doing our best,” said Brandt.