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The University of Georgia Life Sciences building is one of the on-campus buildings undergoing air handler replacement projects. (photo/David C Bristow, dbristow65@gmail.com)

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Georgia has dedicated efforts in improving ventilation in academic buildings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The UGA Facilities Management Division and Environmental Safety Division have made adjustments based on regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

At UGA, in-person classes resumed in the fall with staggered capacity. The university required face coverings inside all campus buildings and advised students to adhere to social distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines

With students on campus, maintaining air circulation indoors is crucial to navigating a pandemic of respiratory illness like COVID-19. ASHRAE recommends buildings have a central air filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 13 or higher.

“Indoor air quality assessments are conducted by ESD in response to a specific need, concern, or event and continue until a resolution is reached,” UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said in an email to The Red & Black. 

Trevor said all UGA buildings operate with central air filters of MERV 11 or higher. Trevor added that since 2012, UGA’s design standards dictate that all new HVAC systems on campus contain ultraviolet systems that are “integral to the air handler.”

Ultraviolet-C light has been proven effective in inactivating the coronavirus according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, making the current HVAC systems even more effective in preventing transmission.

According to ASHRAE, relative air humidity should remain between 40 and 60% to ensure air quality. Despite the age of many UGA buildings, Trevor said mold and mildew caused by fluctuating humidity are dealt with quickly on a case-by-case basis.

“It is not uncommon to have an occurrence of mold or mildew in one or more buildings during the year,” Trevor said. “Most commonly, these occurrences are related directly to an event that introduces moisture into the building space, such as roof leaks, flooding from a heavy rain event, a leaking water pipe or HVAC failure.”

After repairs are made, ESD takes samples of the indoor air for testing to ensure that adequate air quality is restored, Trevor said.

Trevor said that pest issues are also treated on a case-by-case basis using a contracted service provider. 

“In anticipation of the phase II and phase III return to campus, the pest management service provider doubled their time on campus to ensure there were no outstanding pest control issues,” Trevor said.

Modern HVAC units are tailored to limit airflow from the outdoors to reduce energy costs. Trevor said UGA surpasses the standard by tailoring HVAC systems to meet the specific needs of building codes. 

Trevor said that energy efficiency is now required in new building codes and renovations at UGA. This efficiency is obtained by using thermal recovery devices.

These devices incorporate outdoor heat and moisture energy to reduce costs and move heat from one air stream to another using two heat exchangers with glycol as the medium.

A number of buildings on campus, such as those with large lecture halls and auditoriums, employ a method of energy reduction called demand control ventilation, Trevor said. This reduction program adjusts the ventilation of a space based on specific needs such as the number of occupants or pollution.

After the onset of COVID-19, UGA’s Facilities Management Division disabled the demand control ventilation systems to reduce airflow when a space was not occupied, Trevor said. After the return of students to campus, FMD has since used the systems to increase ventilation beyond what is required of the building’s codes, he said.

Trevor said UGA is dedicated to indoor air quality, and there are ongoing renovation projects to replace HVAC components, systems or controls every year. 

One current project is to add ultraviolet-C light elements into the coil locations of HVAC systems in the Zell B. Miller Learning Center.

Trevor said there are currently air handler replacement projects occurring across campus at the Life Science building, River Bend South, Instructional Plaza-North, Forestry Building 3, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the Office of Global Engagement and Family and Consumer Sciences House D.