Elevated Carbon Dioxide Levels Noted at Golden Brook School Again

February 27, 2015

by Barbara O’Brien

A situation which was revealed in December of 2013, approximately 14 months ago, has been brought to the forefront again; that being indoor air pollution in some of the classrooms at Golden Brook School.  Most recently, Tom Murray, local contractor and member of the Citizen Facilities Committee, informed members of the Windham School Board that recent testing for carbon dioxide had revealed “elevated levels” in some of the school’s “pods.”

During the school board’s Feb. 17 meeting, Murray said he had recently taken a number of contractors and sub-contractors through Golden Brook, as part of the planning process should Article 3 of the school district warrant be approved by voters on March 10.  Article 3 is a citizen-petitioned warrant article asking voters to approve the expenditure of $15 million on an addition and renovations to Golden Brook School, as well as renovations to Windham Middle School.  Murray is the author of the citizens’ petition, based on a concept developed by members of the Citizen Facilities Committee, known as Option 2.  During the visit to Golden Brook, it was noted by the contractors that no fresh air system exists.

The issue first came to light when it was discovered that mold and mildew were present in some of the modular classrooms at Golden Brook.  Following that revelation, air quality testing was done by RPF Environmental, a testing and consulting service.  Those portable classrooms have since been torn down and removed from the premises.  Business Administrator Adam Steel said that the worst air quality was found to be in the portables that no longer exist.  That structure was vacated about a year ago.

The December 2013 test results from RPF Environmental showed that carbon dioxide levels ranged from 598 parts per million to 2,660 parts per million, “which is well below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limit of 5,000 parts per million.”  However, the report notes, these concentration ranges were elevated when compared to the generally accepted guideline limit of 800 to 1,000 parts per million for acceptable indoor air quality.  The State of New Hampshire has an indoor acceptable air quality guideline for office buildings of 1.000 parts per million for acceptable CO2 in occupied office buildings.  The OSHA standard of 5,000 parts per million would pertain to such facilities as factories or warehouses.

Carbon dioxide gas is found in the atmosphere as a normal constituent of approximately 350 to 450 parts per million (outdoors).  It is a by-product of human respiration.  In buildings without adequate fresh air ventilation, the level of carbon dioxide is likely to increase throughout the day.  “The primary purpose of introducing fresh outside air into building spaces is to dilute the building of occupant generated air contaminants, which would improve the indoor air quality, occupant comfort and productivity,” according to the report issued by RPF Environmental Services.  The average adult’s breath contains about 35,000 to 50,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide (100 times higher than outdoor air).  According to the State Extension Energy Program, “Experience indicates that individuals in schools and offices with elevated CO2 concentrations tend to report drowsiness, lethargy and a general sense that the air is stale.”

When the RPF Environmental report was issued in December of 2013, it was recommended that more fresh outside air be introduced into the rooms that tested above the recommended guidelines.  “In the interim, faculty should be encouraged to open windows as weather conditions permit,” the report stated.

The day after Murray brought up the elevated carbon dioxide levels to the school board, the following correspondence was emailed to all Golden Brook School parents:


Dear Parents,

Last night, at the Windham School Board meeting, a community member raised some concerns about the indoor air quality at Golden Brook School.  The specific concerns were in regard to the levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the air.  Please note that the concerns were NOT about Carbon Monoxide (CO) which is a harmful and potentially lethal gas, but instead about CO2 which is naturally found in the atmosphere and is a by-product of human respiration.

We want to assure you that we are not aware of any substantiated readings of CO2 that come close to harmful levels.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Permissible Exposure Limit is 5,000 parts of CO2 per million.  In our routine testing of random classrooms at GBS, the highest level discovered was 2,966 ppm with an average reading of 1,264 ppm in the 30 classrooms that were tested.

Despite the readings being well within the acceptable range, it is noted that the State of New Hampshire has a reference value of 1,000 ppm as an acceptable limit for occupied office buildings.  Further, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers recommend a guideline in their standard of 700 ppm of CO2 above outside air concentrations as a value under which employee complaints are minimized.  On the day the air quality tests were taken, the outside concentration was 513 ppm for a corresponding value of 1,213 ppm as a maximum value for perceived air quality.

The vendor who did the air quality testing suggested that “The feasibility of modifying the existing HVAC units to introduce more [outside air] should be investigated.”  We also take no issue with the vendor’s recommendation that staff open windows at their discretion.  Obviously, teachers are less inclined to do so during winter months, but are still encouraged to open windows for fresh air.

The school district performed a long term capital needs assessment for all of our buildings that identified systems and building components that need to be replaced over the next 20 years.  One of the items identified for immediate replacement at GBS was the classroom HVAC units that would address this specific concern.  These units are included in the District’s plan for replacement this summer.  “

If you have any concerns about indoor air quality issues, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 425-1976 or via email at wfeneberg@windhamsd.org or asteel@windhamsd.org.  “


The email to parents also noted that additional air quality testing is scheduled to be conducted in these classrooms on Friday, Feb. 27 and that the results of those tests will be made available to the public.  Steel said that plans are to conduct air quality testing on a quarterly basis.

After reading the email from Superintendent Winfried Feneberg and Adam Steel, dated Feb. 18, Murray emphasized that a carbon dioxide level above 1,000 parts per million, as existed in some of the Golden Brook classrooms when last tested, “does not create a conducive learning environment for students.”  Murray said that one teacher spoken with during his recent visit told him that “more sickness exists” in the part of the building where there are higher carbon dioxide levels.  Murray said that Option 2 (Article 3) would address the need for fresh air ventilation at Golden Brook School.

Jerry Rufo, also a member of the Citizen Facilities Committee, as well as a facilities manager by profession, said he finds the carbon dioxide results “very troubling,” noting the old and outdated equipment that currently exists at Golden Brook School.  Rufo said he found the lack of action taken after the December 2013 air quality tests were revealed “to be puzzling.”  “You’ve known about this for 14 months,” Rufo said to the school board.  “What have you done about it?”  Feneberg said that plans to replace the existing HVAC system at Golden Brook are included in next summer’s capital needs plan.  “This is why the school district needs a facilities manager,” Rufo commented, referring to the proposed position included as a warrant article this year.

Also on Feb. 18, Murray again visited Golden Brook School, accompanied by an HVAC contractor, and recording C02 levels in several areas.  The following day, Murray received an email from Superintendent Feneberg, rebuking him for his visit.  “While I share with you the understanding that the schools are public institutions and open to the residents, I am respectfully requesting that you inform the principal of the time, place, and purpose of each visit, as per district policy KI,” Feneberg wrote.  “I also understand that you brought with you a measuring device to test the CO2 levels in the school, and engaged staff at the school in conversation, presumably about your test findings and your interpretation of the results,” Feneberg continued.  “This is not appropriate or acceptable,” he said.  “Staff members in the building are there to complete work, even after school hours, and should be able to do so without interruption.”

Feneberg also wrote that “any measurements, tests, or concerns about the facility should be submitted to the principal or the superintendent’s office to be properly reviewed.”  “Staff should not be put in a situation to comment on or respond to concerns you may have without the district having an opportunity to analyze those same findings,” he said.

In response to Feneberg’s correspondence, Murray wrote, “As you are well aware, I was volunteering my time, and visiting Golden Brook School in my capacity as a member of the Citizen Facilities Committee, a group sanctioned by the Windham School Board.”  “Both you and Mr. Steel were well aware, in advance, that I would be in the building with an HVAC contractor,” Murray said.  “I reject your suggestion that I was in the school without permission or in violation of school district policy,” Murray continued.  Murray also said that he had informed Golden Brook Principal Rory O’Connor in advance of each of his visits.

Murray said that while he was at Golden Brook on Feb. 18, he measured carbon dioxide levels well in excess of what is considered acceptable.  “As just one example, I measured 1,517 parts per million in classroom 15 at 4:37 p.m.,” Murray said, adding that he has many more examples.  “Suffice it to say that this measurement greatly substantiates the concerns I conveyed to the school board,” Murray said.

“It has come to my attention that the school district had its own further testing performed, and has been or should have been well aware of this issue, yet done nothing,” Murray wrote.  “In my opinion, that is inappropriate and unacceptable’” he said.  “While you may be comfortable sweeping this under the rug, as a concerned parent and taxpayer, I am not,” Murray said.

In further response to Feneberg’s email, Murray responded, “I am unaware of any rule or law that gives you the authority to tell me with whom I can talk, or about what.  Nor am I aware of any rule or law that compels me to submit my concerns to the school district to be vetted for censorship.  Your characterization of me ‘interrupting’ the staff is simply not accurate,” he said.  Murray said he would be glad to discuss the issue with Feneberg at length, but felt the administration’s efforts and taxpayer dollars would be better spent focusing on the real issue; “solving the air quality problem.”

On Feb. 20, William Henderson of TRC Solutions of Woburn, Massachusetts sent a letter to Tom Murray, stating that the firm had reviewed the indoor air quality report prepared by RPF Environmental for Golden Brook School in late 2013.  Murray had previously contacted TRC Solutions, requesting an opinion.  Henderson, an industrial hygienist, noted that RFP took carbon dioxide measurements as part of its indoor air quality inspection.  These measurements ranged from 598 to 2966 parts per million of CO2 in the air of the school.  “It is our understanding that these levels were compared to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Permissible Exposure Limit of 5000ppm for CO2,” Henderson noted.  “This is not the appropriate comparison for this situation,” he said.  “The OSHA PEL is intended for use in the industrial work environment.”  That information was forwarded to Superintendent Feneberg.

Henderson also commented that to use the State of New Hampshire guideline for offices of 1,000 parts per million would be applicable, as would those set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Inc., which calls for a maximum of 700 parts per million above the outside air.  Henderson also suggested that data-logging be performed at Golden Brook School, a process that would allow the fluctuations of carbon dioxide throughout the school week to be observed.

It is anticipated that the carbon dioxide level at Golden Brook School will be back on the agenda again at the Tuesday, March 3 school board meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Community Development Building, adjacent to town hall.  This will be the final school board meeting prior to Election Day.