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Upgrading HVAC equipment can help schools improve indoor air quality for sporting events.

A safe and comfortable environment for sports

Feb. 22, 2022
Schools and universities should pursue upgrades that will decrease the number of airborne pathogens in their indoor sports facilities.

For student-athletes and parents alike, winter sports are something to look forward to. As the nation tries to cope with the continuing threat of Covid-19 and emerge from the pandemic with a new sense of normalcy, airborne threats can still cause disruption for those planning to attend an indoor athletic event.

Whether attending a high school volleyball match or a college basketball game inside an arena, individuals in the stands will be crowded next to one another. In many areas, mask mandates have become lax and enforcement inconsistent, so the risk of being exposed to airborne pathogens is increased. In addition to concerns regarding Covid-19 variants, other illnesses like the flu can spread quickly among those attending an indoor sporting event.

For the education administrators and facility managers responsible for operating these facilities, indoor air quality should be a major topic of discussion as the winter sports season gears up. Indoor air quality (IAQ) has been under a microscope for more than a year because of the pandemic, and now is an ideal opportunity for schools to carry out the necessary upgrades that will help decrease the number of airborne pathogens in their facilities.

Upgrading mechanical HVAC equipment is one of the top solutions for improving and enhancing IAQ within an interior space. For the safety of athletes, parents, and others in attendance, great IAQ would be defined as air that contains no contaminants or harmful concentrations. Facility managers also should consider occupant comfort. If an occupant is dissatisfied with the air, there is likely an IAQ issue.

When it comes to improving IAQ, facility managers should focus on three main areas: controlled ventilation, dehumidification, and filtration. Schools can address these three areas through upgrades to existing HVAC systems.

Controlling the Airflow

One of the most important steps for producing great IAQ is introducing clean, fresh air into an interior space. The World Health Organization states that adequate ventilation is an important tool in limiting the transmission of pathogens. Using controlled ventilation enables school facility managers to push fresh air from outside to an interior space. In most cases, the air one breathes outside is much cleaner than air in an enclosed space. That discrepancy becomes more pronounced during the winter because people tend to stay inside.

With doors to sports facilities kept closed during games and practices, it is vital that facility managers emphasize proper ventilation to guarantee an adequate amount of outside air is being delivered into the space. Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOAS) have control systems that give school administrators the ability to control the rate that outside air is being pushed indoors. In addition to bringing new air inside, the system also pushes old, contaminated air outside to help decrease the number of harmful pathogens.

Proper Relative Humidity

During the winter, cold air can be dry and uncomfortable for building occupants. So adequate humidity is another key to improving IAQ during indoor events such as basketball games. Mechanical HVAC units installed at sports facilities are developed to handle latent loads associated with outdoor air. With the ability to control the humidity inside, facility managers can create an environment that keeps occupants inside a building breathing comfortably. Relative humidity levels should stay between 40% and 60% to help guarantee satisfaction.

In addition to creating comfortable air to breathe, controlling humidity levels can also reduce organic growth within a building or unit. For example, if humidity levels exceed 60%, mold, mildew and organic growth could start to develop because of the excess moisture in the air.

Filtering Airborne Pathogens

Controlling both airflow and humidity are pivotal steps in enhancing IAQ; a key proponent in delivering fresh, clean air is proper filtration. When fans pack gyms or arenas for basketball or volleyball games, it is necessary to filter the air to capture harmful particulates and prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is now recommending the use of MERV 13 filtration for most applications.

Facility managers should check the filters now being used in their HVAC units to ensure that the more effective filtration is in place. Prior to the pandemic, ASHRAE recommended MERV 8 or MERV 10 filters. Increasing the filtration standards means more areas are filtering an increased number of pathogens from the air. HVAC units that support MERV 13 filters should be supplied with them.

For an added layer of defense against harmful pathogens, Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization is another tool that can improve IAQ. This form of technology enables positive and negative ions to be delivered to a space via the ventilation system to attach to airborne particulates, cluster, and get them filtered from the air. This is also done without producing ozone or other harmful byproducts. Ultraviolet (UV) lights can be utilized to improve IAQ as well because germicidal energy has been shown to inactivate viruses, bacteria, and fungi.


Upgrading a HVAC system by emphasizing controlled ventilation, dehumidification, and filtration will go a long way toward creating a comfortable, safe space for student-athletes and crowds during the winter sports season. With that said, regular maintenance remains critical as well. Yearly maintenance will help keep an HVAC system running at maximum efficiency and prolong its life.

Upgrades combined with proper maintenance will create the best opportunity for a school or university to minimize airborne pathogens and keep fans safe while they are cheering on their favorite teams.

Chris Marasco is the product manager at Modine Manufacturing Company (, which specializes in thermal management systems and components. 


HVAC upgrade will help clear the air in Alabama high school gym

Jacksonville High School in Jacksonville, Ala., is getting a new high-tech heating and cooling system in its gym that will kill germs in the air.

The Anniston Star reports that the new system will have a specialized filtration system that utilizes ultraviolet light to essentially "cook" COVID-19 germs, making the air safer to breathe.

It will cover not only the gym, but also the "mini-gym," locker rooms and weight rooms,

The Jacksonville city district is paying for the $880,000 project with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to aid Covid-19 recovery.

District spokesman Benjamin Nunnally says that the high school gym now lacks any ventilation system at all, and that has led to situations that create uncomfortable environments for the students. 

"The new HVAC system isn't able or meant to be a total solution against Covid, but it will definitely improve student safety and health on campus," Nunnally says. 

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