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10/3/2012 2:23:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Photo by Kacie Thrift
The Cashmere School District placed over 50 machines inside the school buildings to filter the smoky air. These machines filter 3,000 square feet over air three times each hour. Cashmere Superintendent Glenn Johnson said the machines makes the filtered air 90 percent cleaner.
Photo by Kacie Thrift
The school buildings have buffer zones at the entry ways to limit the smoke coming into the buildings. When people come into the school, they stand in the buffer zone until all doors are closed. Then they can walk into the building without letting the smoky air inside.
Air finally clean inside schools
Kacie Thrift
Staff Writer

After much work, the air is finally clear in Cashmere School buildings. Last week, school was in session all five days after the administration and the school's insurance company came to an agreement on how to clean and keep the school district's buildings clear of smoke.

Superintendent Glenn Johnson said instead of going off the website count for the air particulates, school staff has been going on top of the building to the check the particulate count each hour.

"This is better than going by the computer because numbers are delayed. Numbers go into a cache and then are put into a computer system statewide for us to make decisions. This week, recess and everything else like practice and game we are going upstairs and taking data straight off the machine," Johnson said.

In previous weeks, the particulate count has been as high as 928 ( hazardous is considered 300 and above). Johnson said last week the particulate count was below 50 for each morning around 10:30 to 11 a.m. In the early morning and evenings, the counts would get worse but significant relief was noticed mid-day all last week.

Johnson believes the temperature, the progress of the fire, and the time of back burns could be responsible for the lower amounts of particulate levels in the day time. The low particulate counts made it so students were able to participate in PE and recess outside.

"We have made those decisions based on the data at that time we don't go just by one reading if we see a pattern of significantly below 50 particulates we have been able to go outside," Johnson said.

On the weekend of Sept. 22, Cashmere School District administration worked with Canfield (insurance company), engineers, and Fulcrum Environmental to make the buildings as clean as possible. A decision was made to start by inserting carbon filters in order to further cleanse the outside air intake. Johnson said they have minimized the outside air intake to about 10 percent.

The inside air is currently being filtered by the school's HVAC (heating ventilation and cooling) systems with approximately 50 HEPA machines. The machines take 3,000 square feet of air and filter it three times each hour. Johnson said the air coming out of the HEPA filters is 90 percent more clean.

Buffer zones have been built in designated entry ways to each building in the district. The company has been at the schools every day checking the machines and helping maintain the buffer zones.

Johnson said he believes the buffer zones and the new HVAC system are helping the buildings stay clean enough to continue school even if the particulate levels rise outside.

"Very few places are using the buffer zones and machines because they haven't had to. This is the most effective thing we have done to mitigate smoke is our entry ways. You cant have four to 500 students and staff going in and out and not draw in whats coming from outside. People have been great, very cooperative, very effective," Johnson said.

Last week, the volleyball team hosted their first home game after having previous games canceled due to a smoke filled gym. On Sept. 25, the soccer team had a home game scheduled but ended up playing the game against Chelan in Leavenworth.

"We did that because we looked at the weather advisory and talked to the health district but they said by 5:30 it could change for the worse, even though we had good quality at that time," Johnson said. "We weren't sure what 5:30 was going to bring. We didn't want to start a match and then have to postpone it. It ended up being a nice evening but that's where it gets tough for varsity events and evening type things. You just don't know."

On the morning of Sept. 27, Johnson and other administration met with consultants from Canfield, Fulcrum Environmental, and the health department to decide on the scheduled home football game for Sept. 28. Johnson said the main problem with scheduled outdoor activities is teams are driving two to three hours to play in Cashmere and in that amount of time the particulate counts could change. A decision was made tomoveth game to Tonasket.

Another issue the school district is facing is the building temperatures. Johnson said since they only have the fans going and no air conditioning, the classrooms are getting uncomfortably warm.

By the end of the week, the administration started discussing with maintenance employees on how to make the classrooms cooler. Johnson said they were waiting for a window in the particulate levels where the numbers were low for enough time to open up the systems and use air conditioning to cool down the buildings.

"I'm talking about manipulating our HVAC system," Johnson said. "The recommendations for the past few days have been to keep it on fan only because the outside air patterns were so inconsistent. However, the last few dates we have had great readings mid morning through later afternoon."

Johnson and other Cashmere School District administrators continue to work with outside resources to make the safest decisions for students, staff and extra-curricular activities.

Kacie Thrift may be reached at 548-5286 or reporter@cashmerevalleyrecord.com.

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