Water fountain bottle fillers

These water fountain bottle fillers are being installed at frequently used water fountains throughout the Halifax County Public Schools, thanks to CARES Act funding. The automatic devices allow students to fill their water bottles without having to touch the water fountains, with the aim of reducing the spread of germs.

Custodians with the Halifax County Public Schools are using new technology from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to keep the schools clean. All the new technologies will be in place when the students return to school for face-to-face learning in February, at the earliest.

Steve Brumfield, director of operations and maintenance for Halifax County Public Schools (HCPS), said he sees the new technology as being beneficial in maintaining the cleanliness of the schools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“All of these new types of equipment are other tools in our toolbox that we’re being able to use to keep our schools as clean as possible for our staff, our students and our teachers,” Brumfield said.

The school system spent a total of $785,239 from CARES Act funds for sanitization/supplies, nurse supplies, custodial equipment, technology and devices for maintaining a clean, sanitary environment in the schools. The funds were an award by Gov. Ralph Northam with a grant period of March 1 through Dec. 30.

“We’re following all the mitigation strategies that have been recommended by the CDC and the Virginia health department. I do think our custodians are staying on top of it,” said Dr. Mark Lineburg, superintendent of HCPS. “I think Steve Brumfield and Tina Slabach – head nurse for HCPS – have done a great job of looking into resources (to purchase with the CARES Act funding).”

One of the new technologies that Brumfield believes will be the most beneficial in keeping the schools clean is the bio polar ionization devices that the school system purchased for $168,750. The bio polar ionization devices were placed into the air handler units in the schools before the Christmas holiday. Meadville Elementary and Sinai Elementary schools each have three mobile bio polar ionization devices throughout the school since they do not have central heating/ cooling systems, Brumfield explained.

“I knew these devices were going to be well worth the money,” Brumfield said.

Air handler units push heat or air throughout a building and bring in returned air, as well, Brumfield explained. He added the devices are energy efficient because they allow the use of returned air rather than bringing in air from outside the building. However, Brumfield said the air handlers bring in dust particles and germs and spread them throughout the school building. The bio polar ionization devices take care of that problem.

“These devices kill any particles that pass by it. When the air handler unit brings the air back in, the bio polar ionization device makes sure the air is pure, clean air,” Brumfield explained. “Until now, the devices have only been used in hospitals and food packaging plants.”

Brumfield said the air quality in all the schools was tested prior to the installation of the bio polar ionization devices and the air quality would be retested soon. He looks forward to the new test results, which he expects to be a notable improvement over the results of the first air quality test.

Another cleaning tool that the school system’s director of operations and maintenance is excited for the school custodial staff to have in its toolbox is electrostatic misters/ foggers. The custodians fill their backpack misters with the disinfectant solution they plan to use, plug it up to charge it, and it puts an electrostatic charge to the disinfectant.

When the disinfectant lands on a surface, it “wraps itself around the germ, basically suffocating the germ,” Brumfield explained. He added the misters are not only more effective at cleaning the schools, but they also are a more efficient method of cleaning for the custodial staff.

“The custodians can mist a room for 30 seconds and walk out instead of having to wipe down every surface,” Brumfield said. He added the time the new cleaning methods saves the custodians allows them to focus on more of their job duties.

All in all, Brumfield said the new technologies for cleaning/ sanitizing are “a significant change in the way that we operate and clean our schools,” but the changes are positive. The Halifax County Public Schools spent a total of $116,804 in CARES Act funding for sanitization/ supplies including the foggers, hand sanitizers, signs, gloves and masks.

As an added benefit, Brumfield said several of the new types of technology used for sanitizing/ cleaning are timesavers that will help the custodians be more efficient in their everyday jobs.

“For our custodians, it’s a significant change, but it’s a positive change,” Brumfield commented. “It allows them to focus on more of their job duties.”

Another new technology the school system purchased with the CARES Act funding will increase safety and efficiency for students, staff and teachers alike. In Brumfield’s view, the new water fountain bottle fillers, at a price tag of $17,492, will be popular among the students.

Instead of students touching the water fountains on a consistent basis and the custodians constantly having to wipe them down, the students can bring their water bottles to school and fill them without having to touch anything thanks to the automatic bottle filler technology added on to the back of the water fountains, Brumfield said.

Currently, there are three water fountain bottle fillers throughout the schools, and Brumfield said more would be installed this week with the return of staff after the Christmas break.

An additional measure that has been implemented to keep staff, teachers and students healthy is hand-sanitizing stations in high traffic areas throughout the schools.

Brumfield noted 50 stations have been installed throughout all the schools and additional stations have been ordered. He said while the hand sanitizing stations are quick and convenient, the school staff is still encouraging students to wash their hands frequently with soap and water as that is the best defense against the spread of germs.

Walk-up windows also have been installed at the entrance of each elementary school at an attempt to cut down on foot traffic inside. Visitors will press a button at the main entrance and then be instructed to step to the window.

Visitors will be limited to “essential visitors,” which will be determined by administration of each building.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.