The health and wellness of the UIC community is of paramount importance to the Office of Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services (OVCAS). To ensure the readiness of UIC’s buildings in response to COVID-19, mitigation strategies aimed at reducing the spread of disease and lowering the risk of exposure were adopted in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. One strategy, discussed on this webpage, was to assess and improve the ventilation in UIC’s buildings by increasing the delivery of clean air and diluting potential contaminants.
The OVCAS assembled a team to review CDC guidelines and recommendations and develop a ventilation assessment plan to provide a comprehensive review and evaluation of building ventilation systems, remediate any issues uncovered, improve systems air quality and flow where required or feasible, and maintain a record of building readiness for occupancy.
The OVCAS ventilation assessment team included professional mechanical engineers, controls engineers, building engineers, industrial hygienists, and specialized technicians. The team evaluated the Heating, Ventilation, and Cooling (HVAC) systems serving 88 buildings on the UIC campus and 10 buildings at the regional campuses. As part of the risk-mitigation strategy, the team ensured the proper operation and function of the HVAC systems. Inspections of these systems focused on ASHRAE (American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) requirements. In non-clinical settings, the CDC recommends following ASHRAE guidelines to optimize ventilation to reduce COVID-19 transmission.
Independent air balancing technicians measured the existing air flow in each building and strategically tested air flow in approximately 2,500 rooms. This sampling included a variety of space types, include teaching spaces, rooms at the end of supply duct runs, and rooms with a history of HVAC issues. This approach provided adequate data points for the OVCAS team to state with a high degree of confidence that adequate outside airflow is being provided to the building spaces.
When issues were identified, the team corrected deficiencies to meet the established ASHRAE standards. Mitigating strategies included repairing mechanical equipment, adjusting air flow settings, increasing quantities of outside air, increasing filtration, or installing stand-alone fan HEPA filtration systems. The goal was to ensure that systems were operating as designed and, where possible, to improve indoor air quality.
The assessment plan provided a comprehensive methodology for the inspection, testing, repair, and documentation of the building ventilation systems. This included:
- Precheck of all central systems to identify any mechanical, electrical, and control system deficiencies to be corrected prior to system testing
- Establishment of the minimum acceptable outdoor air and ventilation airflow rates based on full occupancy and usage for each ventilation system
- Evaluation of system capacity to increase outdoor ventilation and filtration to the highest level permitted based on the capacity of each system
- Testing and measurement of the building HVAC system by independent Test and Balance (TAB) technicians to achieve the required outdoor air and ventilation airflow rates
- Implementation of repairs necessary to remedy system deficiencies followed by retesting by the TAB technicians to verify ventilation compliance
- Evaluation and installation, as necessary, of local self-contained high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) fan filtration units to supplement existing space ventilation and air quality
Ventilation Assessment Flow
For the buildings evaluated in the assessment the team compiled the following attributes:
- Building Name/Number
- Ready Status - An indication that the building is ready for the fall semester. This is defined as the building either meeting ASHRAE ventilation requirements or having appropriate mitigation, including either installation of HEPA filtration units or reduced occupancy.
Mechanical Ventilation - Mechanical Ventilation indication was used to identify building systems that provide fresh air to spaces
- System(s) Functional - The system(s) that provides the fresh air is in good working order, and no immediate operational repairs are required
- Needs Repair - The system(s) that provides the fresh air is in good working order, but repairs are needed for long-term operation.
- Mitigation - A mitigation strategy was identified for building systems that did not meet ASHRAE ventilation requirements. For example, supplying spaces with the appropriate number of HEPA filtration units as recommended by the CDC or reducing occupancy.