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Letter: Buffalo school buildings can keep out the pandemic

Letter: Buffalo school buildings can keep out the pandemic

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As students, teachers and staff return to live instruction there has been concern with how safe our “old” schools are in this era of Covid-19. The public should take comfort knowing that the Buffalo schools built in the first half of the 20th century were designed specifically to address the public health concerns of tuberculosis and the Spanish flu pandemic.

The architects’ main concern was ample ventilation, so they specified large double hung windows and tall ceilings facilitating fresh air circulation. Oversized steam fired boilers fed cast iron radiators under every window producing enough heat that even the coldest air from partially open windows would be tempered.

The schools also had central ventilation systems in the basements that used massive fans to draw fresh air from the roof, and circulate that air through banks of cast iron convectors. The heated air would rise naturally through ductwork to every classroom, providing warm, fresh air. These systems did not recirculate the air but expelled it to the outside as fresh air was brought in negating the need for sophisticated filtration systems.

Like most old buildings these systems deteriorated over the years, but Buffalo Schools benefitted from the Joint Schools Construction Project which insured that new windows were installed, boilers were refurbished or replaced and central fan systems were reconstructed. Simple, elegant and reliable solutions as appropriate today as they were 100 years ago.

Paul McDonnell, AIA

President, Campaign for Greater Buffalo

Former Buffalo Schools Facilities Director

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