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Surrey school district releases online ventilation database, but critics say more needs to be done

Surrey Teachers’ Association, Surrey DPAC wonder why some schools still don’t have better filtration
A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary. March 2021. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

While groups are pleased the Surrey school district has released an online database for ventilation at each school site, they say more can be done.

On Friday (Oct. 15), the district released a database that lists school sites and what ventilation systems are used in different areas of each site.

MERV stands for minimum efficiency reporting values. According to the Government of Canada’s guidance on indoor ventilation during the pandemic, filters with higher MERV ratings “are more efficient at removing particles.”

In the release from the district, it says that where the equipment can accommodate, the district has upgraded filters in HVAC equipment to MERV-13s. However, in cases where the manufacturer specifications do not accommodate MERV-13s, the district has installed the next highest filters that can be accommodated – either MERV-11s or MERV-8s.

“All heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in our district are operated and maintained to their standards and specifications, so they continue to work properly and are consistent with Occupational Health and Safety and WorkSafeBC standards,” said Laurie Larsen, Surrey Board of Education chair.

”These systems are regularly inspected, and concerns from schools/sites are investigated by our Facilities department.”

But the Surrey Teachers’ Association and the Surrey District Parent Advisory Council say that while the online database is welcome news, there are still some concerns.

“We’re glad to see it because we had been asking for this since the summer, so it’s good to finally see the information there,” said STA president Matt Westphal.

But when looking at the database, Westphal said “the vast majority” of school sites are below MERV-13, with the rest listed at MERV-11, MERV-8 or pad filter.

“This was known in the summer, so we’re disappointed that more has not been done to bring the ventilation up to the standard it should be to have maximized safety,” said Westphal, adding that they’re now six weeks into the school year.

For the Surrey DPAC, they say they’re “grateful that transparent information about ventilation within our schools has been made available to our parents,” but this is information they have also been requesting since the beginning of the school year.

The DPAC added more clarification is needed for parents of the specifications of the different MERV filters.

“While this database does provide us with some information, we know that some classrooms in our very old schools are still not up to par, but do not appear to be listed in the database,” according to a statement provided by Rina Diaz, on behalf of Surrey DPAC.

“Parents have also asked why some brand-new schools have the same MERV-11 filters as schools that were built in 1955.”

Westphal noted the same issue.

“We were told that some sites, the units were not capable of handling MERV13. I didn’t think it would be quite so many that are below that standard, including schools that are not necessarily that old. That’s certainly a concern to me that as we know that COVID is airborne, ventilation is more important than ever.”

Grandview Heights Secondary, the newest site in the district to open this school year, lists HVAC systems in 38 areas of the school. But only 10 of those have MERV-13 systems.

Both groups say they will continue to push for higher standards from the district and the Ministry of Education, especially now that the information is readily available.

“I know that a lot of work was done over the summer to update things as much as they can, but if the places are not capable of getting MERV13, then there is a responsibility to bring it up to a higher standard, such as two portable units,” said Westphal, noting other districts have done that.

For the DPAC, they’re asking the ministry to provide portable HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters for all classrooms that do not meet the requirements of MERV-13.

The district release adds it is also changing filters at an increased frequency – four times a year – to ensure efficient operation and to date in the 2021-22 school year, $674,000 has been invested in HVAC upgrades and $250,000 in MERV-rated filter maintenance.

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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