Vaibhav Sharma, Photo Editor

On Monday, Board of Education members discussed the maintenance of New Haven Public Schools’ air filters after a newly released report from the city of New Haven found that at least a dozen schools had old or poorly maintained air filters.

In October, a multi-agency city task force began investigating NHPS buildings to ensure that they complied with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines. The task force found that school buildings had crumbling infrastructures such as missing ceiling tiles, moldy ceilings, cracked roofs and old air filters. Go To Commercial Cleaning Services LLC is the district’s contractor in charge of school maintenance. NHPS Executive Director of Facilities Joseph Barbarotta, who works directly with Go To Services, appeared before the Board of Education to clear the air.

“There is a perception that we haven’t changed [air] filters in four or five years,” Barbarotta said at Monday’s meeting. “It’s just not true … we do filter changes in a staggered schedule, depending on the date [the air filter] was put in and the status pressure they put in the system.” 

Barbarotta also provided more context for the state of NHPS’ air filters on Monday. He said that about 10 years ago, the district hired a third party that found that the city needed to spend $41 million to maintain its school buildings, including air filtration systems. According to Barbarotta, this figure is likely higher today.

However, 10 years ago, the district’s budget for air filters was about $100,000 annually. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, that budget was slashed to just $50,000. Barbarotta said that to save money, the district invested in then-new MERV-8 filters because they only needed to be changed once a year compared to the district’s old filters, which required changes two or three times a year.

Barbarotta said that around March 2020, just before the pandemic began, NHPS had just finished installing MERV-8 filters at every school in the district. The CDC recommends that school buildings have MERV-13 or greater filters. A higher MERV rating means that a filter is more efficient at catching particles between 0.3 and 10 microns. 

By the end of October, most NHPS schools were expected to be equipped with MERV-13. However, local officials found old, dusty air filters across NHPS schools as recently as early February. Barbarotta said that this year and going forward, Go To Services is collecting signatures from air filter installers to ensure that they are being regularly replaced. Barbarotta explained that in the past, the district had two warehouses that stored spare air filters ready for use if needed.

Board of Education members discussed new resources the district can use to maintain its air filters in the future.

“It sounds like over the years we have had a position problem, a warehouse problem, a funding problem and we’ve been COVID-exposed,” Board of Education member Larry Conaway said at Monday’s meeting. “These things have to be resolved and safety of the staff, safety of the teachers, safety of the students have to be our number one goal.”

On Sunday, Conaway told the News that he supports rehiring a custodial engineer who would change filters in NHPS ventilation systems. Barbarotta explained that the district used to have this position up until 2013, but has since been cut due to budget constraints.

Board of Education member Edward Joyner agreed with Conaway’s call for more resources. He added that the Board should adopt a “healthy building certification” for all NHPS buildings. Joyner argued that the certification would force the Board to fund school maintenance projects so that it could meet certification requirements and hold principals responsible for living up to standards. 

Barbarotta estimates that the district will need to spend $225,000 annually to maintain its new MERV-13 filters. There are 6,244 air filters across NHPS.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu