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In 2022, Governor Lamont signed into law new requirements for Connecticut boards of education (“BOEs”) to evaluate the indoor air quality (“IAQ”) and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (“HVAC”) systems in their respective school buildings. The new law, PA 22-118 (the “Act”), significantly broadens prior IAQ requirements captured in CGS § 10-220(d) (the “IAQ Statute”) by creating new HVAC assessment criteria.

Previously, the IAQ Statute required BOEs to provide for a uniform inspection and evaluation program of the IAQ every five (5) years for any school building “that is or has been constructed, extended, renovated or replaced on or after January 1, 2003.” While the January 1, 2003 trigger date remains in the statute, in our experience, the CT Department of Public Health considers the IAQ requirements applicable to all public schools, regardless of whether such work had been undertaken since 2003. Further, while BOEs were required to ensure HVAC systems were maintained and operated in accordance with industry standards (CGS § 10-231e), the IAQ Statute did not previously require a specific HVAC assessment framework before the Act. 

What’s new?

The Act created three significant changes to the IAQ Statute.

  1. Most significantly, the IAQ Statute now requires BOEs to conduct an HVAC system assessment for each public school building.  
    • Each school must complete its initial assessment before January 1, 2024 and every five (5) years after the initial assessment. The HVAC inspection must be performed by a certified testing, adjusting and balancing technician, a certified industrial hygienist or a mechanical engineer and, at a minimum, satisfy the assessment tasks listed in the Act.
    • BOEs must make the HVAC results available at a regularly scheduled BOE meeting and on the BOE’s website (and if applicable, the individual school’s website).  
  2. The Act increased the frequency of the required IAQ evaluation (distinct from the new HVAC assessment) from every five (5) years to every three (3) years.
    • Consistent with the HVAC requirement, BOEs must make the results of its IAQ evaluations available at a regularly scheduled BOE meeting and on the BOE’s website (and if applicable, the individual school’s website).  
  3. Lastly, the Act included new definitions of three key terms to better inform the IAQ and HVAC requirements. 

Five tips for BOEs to get started

The list below includes our general suggestions for BOEs to comply with the new IAQ and HVAC requirements and minimize unplanned costs and noncompliance risks.    

  1. Assemble your technical and legal team ASAP: We recommend that BOEs form an IAQ/HVAC compliance team, including your facilities director, the Superintendent (or a delegate), environmental counsel and a qualified environmental consultant with IAQ/HVAC credentials. The requirements include both technical and legal aspects, so engaging only a consultant or counsel leaves a BOE subject to critical blind spots.  
  2. Plan your approach now: As noted, the first HVAC system assessment is due for every school before January 1, 2024, and the availability of qualified consultants will be a rate-limiting factor toward the second half of 2023. Convenient inspection days (such as planned school breaks) will undoubtedly be the first to become unavailable. BOEs must also promptly consider their budgeting strategies for these required tasks, such as sharing the costs between the current school year budget and the 2023-2024 academic year budget. Thus, now is the time to begin planning and scheduling with your IAQ/HVAC compliance team.
  3. Refresh district procedures: It is prudent for BOEs and individual schools to revisit internal procedures and consult with legal counsel regarding whether a BOE policy addressing these IAQ/HVAC matters would be prudent for your particular school district.   If IAQ and/or HVAC policies are already in effect, BOEs should evaluate whether it would be prudent to update them. 
  4. Prepare for more public awareness and input: As noted above, IAQ and HVAC assessment reports must be provided for public input at BOE meetings and on the web. Such publication is sure to increase public interest and conversation. Planning with your IAQ/HVAC compliance team before such meetings will help organize the findings, plan effective and accurate communication strategies, take appropriate corrective actions and plan next steps. BOEs should be mindful that the recommendations may impact existing HVAC service contracts and/or performance contracts (including those that allow external parties to control HVAC settings and maintenance).
  5. Find funding: The Act established a reimbursement grant program for HVAC and IAQ costs to be administered annually by the Department of Administrative Services. The first application period closed on 12/1/22 and dates for the next cycle are not yet published.  Additionally, school districts may be able to use some of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund grants for IAQ and HVAC projects. When contemplating whether ESSER funds are used for these purposes, school districts must consider their own ESSER plans and ensure that any such procurements comply with grant assurances, federal procurement standards and other applicable requirements. 

Strong IAQ and HVAC practices are essential to the school experience for, and ensuring the health and safety of, students, faculty, staff and visitors. Prompt attention to these new requirements is vital to the health and comfort of building occupants, managing budgets and associated constraints, ensuring legal compliance and minimizing BOE potential liabilities. Please contact a Shipman environmental or school lawyer with any questions.