B&G Highlight: USG’s Ventilation Systems, Past & Proposed

By Howard Silver- July, 2023

Last week, we mentioned the smart ventilation system that was put in place when the church was built…and how parts for that system became defunct by the 1990s. When our current building was constructed in 1928-1929, the designers understood that ventilation and interior air quality were important health concerns. In the back of people’s minds was the Spanish Flu, which was as deadly as Covid and had ended about 8 years before. 

The Sanctuary was built with a ventilation system that used blowers to pull fresh air through vents in outside walls then into the rooms through registers in the window sills.  As this stream of air warmed, it rose up and drifted out through opened sanctuary clerestory windows. In the attic above the Edna Jones Assembly Room was a large exhaust fan, with ductwork, connected to the Assembly Room and the Dining Room, which pulled indoor hot air out and brought fresh air through open windows into the building.

When Covid hit, many Building and Grounds members stepped up to address ventilation in the building. Those members include Andre Stormont, Bill Blasdel, Auggie Anderson, Ron Ross, and Howard Silver. B&G began by consulting with a mechanical engineering firm, Bruce Brooks Associates, to evaluate our interior ventilation system and provide recommendations on how to make it effective in mitigating interior airborne viruses.

Our Foundations for the Future Capital Campaign includes raising funds for these recommendations, which revolve around restoring both the original Sanctuary ventilation system and improving the original Assembly Room and Dining Room systems by adding energy efficiency and modern day equipment.  

….But we want to pause here for a moment to give special appreciation to Bill Blasdel, who knew that permanent upgrades to our ventilation system would require a substantial amount of fund raising, and took it upon himself to research and then construct the many fans with Hepa filters that we have used throughout the building, an effective, low-cost, temporary method to mitigate airborne viruses.…

In the Sanctuary, the heating plant was also connected to the ventilation system. In winter, the blowers mentioned above were used to blow air over steam heat convector units and into the room to heat it. Our proposed renovation of this ventilation system will allow us to once again bring in outside air during heating and cooling, instead of just recirculating the interior air.

This is a critical goal of these projects as the core CDC recommendation to mitigate airborne viruses is that fresh air should be circulated into buildings. Unfortunately, the HVAC systems that we have in place now (with steam heating and mini split air conditioners) do not function to bring in fresh air. Although leaving windows open would give us sufficient ventilation, during hot, humid summer weather or during cold winter weather, that practice would not be the best idea to bring folks back to Church!

For the assembly room and dining room, we plan to use the original ventilation system ductwork as part of the installation of Energy Recovery Ventilators. They are highly energy-efficient HVAC ventilators which remove stale air from buildings and then bring in tempered, filtered fresh air. This will provide enough fresh air that satisfies CDC recommendations for healthy interior air quality. The Sullivan Chapel will also have ERVs installed, but will require some new duct work.

Please help us to make important improvements in our ventilation systems, which will protect the health and safety of our community.  Your support of The Foundations for the Future Capital Campaign will benefit everyone!