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Reopening Schools with a Focus on COVID-19 Safety and Code Compliance

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The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a complex puzzle that superintendents and facility managers must solve to ensure a safe environment to which students and staff can return in the coming weeks.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has provided guidance to school districts to open as safely as possible using social distancing and reducing contact points throughout the school. To accomplish this, most school districts will be faced with making modifications to their existing spaces, from rearranging furniture within a classroom to repurposing larger spaces to function as classrooms. Some districts may need to take even further measures like adding temporary tents or additions.

In clarifying documents released just last week, NYSED provided an important reminder that any changes require assurance that all codes (building, electrical, fire, mechanical and plumbing) are still being met and the revised spaces remain in compliance. Striking this balance of code compliance and COVID-19 safety measures is important, and one where the support from a design professional is necessary, with the creation of signed and stamped documents being required in every district’s “return to school” plans.

Outlined below are a few highlights from the latest NYSED documentation where the assistance of a design professional is needed:

  • Repurposing of existing rooms – this consists of changes to the configuration of the room furniture by adding, removing or relocating of furniture or casework to accommodate a change in function or use.
  • Existing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems – a statement must be provided on the drawings that attests that each system has been reviewed by a design professional and is compliant with applicable NYS codes (plumbing, mechanical, electrical and fire protection).
  • Temporary quarters/tents – construction documents by a design professional need to be provided to the Office of Facilities Planning (i.e. access road location, site plan with location identified, seating plans, egress paths identified, exit and illumination provided within the space).
  • Building additions, alterations and modular buildings – plans need to be designed, stamped and signed by a design professional.

Design and engineering experts from Bergmann’s Education Practice are available as needed for any school districts seeking both short- and long-term assistance.