Conrado inspecting building equipment

600,000

The number of students LAUSD serves from K-12.

LAUSD is the second-largest district in the nation and serves over 600,000 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade at over 1,000 schools.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends schools improve their central air filters to the MERV13-

According to the National Air Filtration Association (NAFA), a MERV 13 filter can trap 90% or more dangerous air particles, including virus carriers.

Conrado Guerrero has been a building engineer with LAUSD for 23 years. In his more than two decades on the job,  he’s never seen so much attention paid to air filters in schools.  Throughout this pandemic, he has been upgrading all the air conditioning filters at over 120 different school sites in Central and South Los Angeles to make each classroom compliant with COVID-19 safety regulations. 

Conrado starts his day off at six in the morning, making sure his location’s equipment is operative and their central plants are working by providing heating and cooling. From there, he gets routed to different schools, where he performs preventative maintenance tasks; fixing water leaks, changing filters, conducting minor repairs on components of the heating and air-conditioning systems, reading and recording temperatures, pressures, gas and water usage on boilers and other equipment located in the physical plant. 

“I perform these duties either by myself or with a group of other co-workers, we change all the filters on all the equipment throughout the day to make sure that everything is working properly.”

“Every piece of air conditioning equipment has to have a MERV 13 filter so that students and staff can have a safe learning environment,” says Conrado. The MERV 13 is one of the industry’s most effective filters for catching dust, mold, bacteria, and virus carriers.

Replacing filters at every site, keeping up with daily maintenance repairs, and working on installations have increased the workload for every building engineer since the pandemic. But even long before the crises, the excessive workload has been an issue. 

Conrado says when workers retire or quit, they are not being replaced, “We used to have about 70 engineers, but now we have a total of 16 for the entire district. They have not hired any building engineers in the last 8 years.”

Workdays have been a lot longer for building engineers for the past five years and it only got worse since the pandemic.

 Many are working overtime to get their job done, “We’re always busy, we have been working on Saturday, sometimes Sunday, and holidays just changing filters. We don’t have enough personnel to be able to do it all during the week.”

As students return to in-person instruction they will bring with them a high level of need. One of those needs will require their classroom to have clean air. 

“Not having enough workers makes it harder for the students and all these factors will not help their learning process…they need a safe environment.” 

Conrado feels having more building engineers will reduce the cost of equipment in classrooms and decrease the time students and staff are waiting when equipment breaks down.

“It can take up to a week and a half before somebody can go out there and work in a classroom.” 

Throughout the pandemic, Conrado and his small team replaced over half a million air filters in their region. Before the pandemic, they were replacing these filters every three months and now they are required to replace them monthly. 

“As of right now, they are hiring contractors to come to help us on the weekends, but I don’t see the possibility of being able to change them monthly. Even if we worked every Saturday and Sunday. It is just too much.”

Conrado would like to see more air filter technicians being hired to help with the maintenance of schools, “Students need maintenance in their schools to move forward from the pandemic… to learn and grow.” 

Even with students facing forward, wearing masks, and six feet apart the classroom can still lack sufficient air ventilation.  (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)