OVCAS experts continue to refine building reopening plans

With fall semester about to start, teams from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services (OVCAS) continue to adapt and monitor campus building reopening plans in order to ensure the safety of the UIC community and minimize the spread of COVID-19.

The team, which consists of experts from the OVCAS Planning, Sustainability and Project Management (PSPM), Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHSO) and Facilities Management (FM) departments, created and posted its HVAC Considerations for COVID-19 plan in early July. As decisions were made about which classes would be taught on campus, the team revisited the plan to make sure that it addressed any unique concerns based on what was being taught and the classrooms being used for those classes.

For example, the team has focused extra attention on the rooms being used for music and theatre courses and has implemented improvements at the College of Dentistry to allow for patient care to resume. PSPM mechanical engineers, professional service consultants, FM Heat, Light and Power (HLP) staff, and external contractors have worked together to ensure that the air flow in classrooms being used exceed current code requirements by doing the following:

  • Reviewing major air handling unit equipment to confirm that all is in good working order.
  • Verifying that fans are spinning at design speed and increased speeds, when possible, to augment air flow.
  • Modifying outside air inflow quantities by adjusting dampers.
  • Replacing air filters.
  • Reviewing air change rate per hour versus occupant load to confirm that the system exceeds American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
  • Addressing any air pressure drop issues by cleaning coils inside ductwork.

All air handling systems at UIC have adequate filters installed to clean the air. The HLP team has been conducting these same kinds of checks on the mechanical systems in all UIC buildings to confirm that they are performing as designed. The airflow to various spaces does vary as the air flow design considers the cooling and heating needs of the spaces along with ventilation requirements. The number of occupants and equipment in the space also has a significant effect on the design air flow. HVAC systems in all UIC buildings are designed for 100% occupancy, but since buildings will be partially occupied during the fall semester with only 25% classroom occupancy and no more than 50% occupancy in labs and offices, all UIC buildings will have extra air capacity.

Air filtration guidelines are determined from various codes and industry standards based on the occupancy and space usage. Filtration effectiveness is measured as the % containment of specific sized particles. ASHRAE has recently issued a Position Document on Indoor Air Quality, and ASHRAE Standard 62.1 Indoor Air Quality is a good reference that addresses this topic.

UIC tests and balances mechanical systems for projects and if any issues are discovered, they are rectified so that the air flow and outside air rates meet ASHRAE requirements.

Since fall semester plans were announced, the team has also addressed questions it has received about the possible use of UV devices and HEPA filters in classrooms and labs. UV devices and HEPA filters are specified for high-risk areas and hazardous research laboratories. UV lighting in spaces can be hazardous to humans if the radiation is not directed properly, and skin damage and eye injury can result from long term exposure. Additionally, few of UIC’s older building air conditioning systems have been designed to overcome the increased pressure drop associated with HEPA-level filtration.

The team also continues to caution about opening classroom doors and windows, which can have a negative effect on space pressurization, humidification, and upset the balance of air flow between rooms. It will also bring in pollen, soot, engine exhaust, and other external contaminants from high-traffic campus streets.

If there are concerns about specific rooms, employees should submit a Service Request to Facilities Management for investigation. If you have questions or need more information about HVAC plans and processes, please email servdesk@uic.edu.

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