HEPA filters have been installed in schools that previously relied on opened windows or doors for ventilation.

Halifax engineer questions province's $1,250+ HEPA filter purchase

“It looks like they bought one with some extra high-tech bells and whistles that basically may not actually deliver much advantage."

A Halifax engineer, who did his own minor ventilation upgrade to his childrens’ HRM school due to COVID concerns in summer 2020, said the province likely paid too much for the new HEPA filters. The province plans to have these $1,250 (plus tax) units installed in 71 schools before in-person class resumes Monday. The filters, along with three-ply face masks, are aimed at providing extra protection amid the omicron wave.

Mechanical engineer Aaron Smith said he's happy improvements are happening, but he questions the type of filter purchased. “It looks like they bought one with some extra high-tech bells and whistles that basically may not actually deliver much advantage,” Smith said in an interview.

“There are much lower cost options that can deliver just as much air. You can buy one at Canadian Tire for $300,” he said.

The province is spending $2.3 million on units for about 70 schools. The filtration systems were purchased after reviewing information from Newfoundland and Labrador, a department of education spokesperson said. NL chose these devices after it “undertook a thorough and competitive tender process, including rigorous criteria,” so NS purchased the same units.  

click to enlarge Mechanical engineer Aaron Smith pushed for HEPA filters in schools in summer 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID. He was told that wasn't allowed. - CONTRIBUTED
Contributed
Mechanical engineer Aaron Smith pushed for HEPA filters in schools in summer 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID. He was told that wasn't allowed.

Smith said he was surprised to hear from his colleagues in the sector that no one local was consulted in the decision. He believes the province would have been better off purchasing straightforward HEPA filters, which ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) recommends. Smith is a board member with the local ASHRAE chapter.

“The extra high-tech extra features don’t really provide any benefits,” Smith said. But they do typically add to the initial cost and maintenance expenses, he said.

Still, Smith said he’s pleased to see some action on the ventilation front. HEPA filters are something he’s been pushing for since last summer. That’s when he installed a window fan in his childrens’ school within the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

“We’ve been pushing to make upgrades at schools, particularly those without mechanical ventilation systems," Smith said. He wanted to bring in portable HEPA filters. He was told by the centre for education that he wasn’t allowed.

“What the [centre for education] told us, which was a political answer, was that if we were to do that it would give the impression that ventilation is inadequate and other parents from other schools would want them,” Smith said.

“I mean that’s exactly what I wanted to happen.”

Smith said he’s pleased the province realized something needed to be done, “but it seems like this was a knee-jerk reaction.”

About The Author

Lyndsay Armstrong

Lyndsay is a city reporter covering all things Halifax, health and COVID-19. She is a data journalist who has covered provincial politics for allNovaScotia.com and represented Nova Scotia in a national investigation into lead in drinking water with the Toronto Star and Global.

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