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Asked & Answered: What was the result of your meeting regarding NCC’s ventilation study?

On August 11th, Vice President of Classroom Faculty Richard Newman and Physical Sciences Executive Board Rep David Stern met with representatives of NCC’s administration and CannonDesign, the firm hired by the college to conduct the recently completed air ventilation study. This meeting was in partial fulfillment of a requirement that NCC’s administration included in their calls for proposals, ie, that the vendor hired to perform the ventilation study would have to agree to report on their findings to the campus community. This requirement will be fully completed when CannonDesign submits a written report that can be shared with the campus. As a result of our discussion on the 11th, VP Muscarella has asked CannonDesign to prioritize the first part of the report, which will give details of the occupancy analysis that we discuss below. He said the second part of the report will take a little longer. We do not have a firm date for the release of either component of the report, but we will make sure to inform you as soon as we do. We applaud the college’s decision to include this reporting requirement in the call for proposals. The meeting on the 11th and the written reports that will follow are an important step in the NCCFT’s ongoing dialogue with the administration about campus health and safety.

The administration was represented at the August 11th meeting by Vice President Joseph Muscarella, Robert Jarocki (Acting Assistant Vice President, Department of Design and Construction), Christopher Rotella (I/T Capital Project Manager, Department of Design and Construction), and Kevin O’Brien (former, now part time, Deputy Director, Bureau of Building Services, Physical Plant, NCC). Representing CannonDesign were Frances Fox (Vice President) and Brett Farbstein (Associate Vice President, Commissioning Services Leader). CannonDesign is an international firm that has a long history of working with the college, starting with the design phase of the Life Sciences Building fifteen or so years ago. Cannon also produced the most recent facilities master plan in 2013 and they designed the new culinary building.

The campus ventilation study was one part of a two-pronged approach that the college took to making sure the college ventilation systems are in compliance with CDC safety guidelines when people return to campus in the fall. The other prong was performed by a different vendor and involved a mechanical inventory and (where necessary) repair of all the fan coil units (office heating-cooling units) and unit ventilators (classroom heating-cooling units) on campus. While this project was not discussed in any detail at the August 11th meeting, Vice President Muscarella reported that it is nearing completion and will be finished by September 1.

The project we did discuss, which CannonDesign performed, was the building-by-building evaluation of all central ventilation systems on campus. These are the systems that serve classroom spaces not served by the classroom heating-cooling units mentioned in the previous paragraph. Two components of that evaluation were reported on at our meeting:

  • An evaluation to determine that the capacity of each central ventilation system matched the classroom occupancy in the building’s original design specification
  • An assessment of each central ventilation system’s functionality in light of the above

Classroom Capacity

Classroom occupancy is one of the first things that is decided when a building that will house classrooms is being designed. A host of further design decisions, many of them connected to making sure that the rooms will be safe to occupy, flow from that number, among them what the mechanical design of the central ventilation system will need to be in order to ensure proper ventilation. In this first phase of their study, CannonDesign went back to the original design specs for each building on campus and, based on the code that was in effect at the time of construction—which is the legal standard the college used—determined whether or not the central ventilation system is able to handle that level of occupancy. According to CannonDesign’s Brett Farbstein, the central ventilation systems met this standard campus wide. In addition, Mr. Farbstein added, Cannon Design went one step further and evaluated the central ventilation systems and room occupancies against current building codes and found that the systems were still mostly in compliance.

In addition to the health and safety issues addressed by phase one of Cannon’s study, there is an additional benefit as well. Over the years, the NCCFT has raised questions about the maximum number of desks/students our classrooms are able to hold. As a result of the findings that emerged from phase one of this project, the college has committed to making sure that the room occupancies listed in Banner match the room occupancies in the design specs. In other words, the administration will no longer put more desks in a room than the room is coded for in terms of occupancy. What this means is that the number of desks listed in Banner becomes the maximum number of students that can occupy the classroom. This is one example of how a focus on campus health and safety has implications for the quality of our professional lives and the academic lives of our students beyond the immediate health concerns that are being addressed. We look forward to more such synergies as NCC moves into the post-pandemic future.

Central Ventilation System Functionality

Vice President Muscarella reported to us that CannonDesign had completed an assessment of each central ventilation system on campus and that any remediations that were recommended/required have either been completed or are in process and will be finished by September 1st. The results of this assessment will be included in Cannon’s final report, along with the data gathering and analysis that comprised phase two of their study.

Further Discussion

During the meeting, we raised concerns that were articulated in the resolution that Professor Stern introduced and that was passed last semester by the NCCFT Executive Board. VP Muscarella agreed that these were worth further discussion. We will report back to you on the progress of those discussions once there is something to report. (If you would like to read the Board resolution, you can do so here.)

As usual, we welcome discussion in the comments. However, If you have questions to which you would like a response from the Executive Committee, please send them directly to the NCCFT Office.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for this update. I really hope this assessment included The Children’s Greenhouse. It is a campus building but is not always included or thought of as “part of the campus” by all individuals.

    1. Thanks for this question, Christine. We checked and, yes, the Children’s Greenhouse was included in the ventilation study.

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