WESTFIELD, NJ – Despite their prolonged closure, Westfield’s public schools are regularly being cleaned, sanitized and maintained, district officials said Tuesday.

Superintendent Margaret Dolan said the district is taking several steps, including sanitizing buildings and surfaces, maintaining air circulation and running and changing filters in HVAC units.

“The Buildings and Grounds Department has been doing a great deal of work to ensure that our facilities are ready for the safe return of our students and staff once that date has been determined by the state,” Dolan said at Tuesday’s virtual school board meeting.

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Board member Michael Bielen, who chairs the board’s facilities committee, discussed these procedures in detail.

“Every surface and all furniture are wiped down and sanitized,” Bielen said. “Protectants are used to clear bacteria and germs, to clear any type of bacteria you can think of, including COVID-19.”

“Since school is closed, they’ve continued cleaning the technology areas, the school grounds and vehicles,” Bielen added. “Everything that they do is following the CDC guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing.”

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In addition to these actions, facilities staff are also cleaning classrooms and lockers after any staff visits, keeping classroom doors open at times to maintain airflow, and ensuring that plumbing and water systems are working effectively, Bielen said.

The district has installed ultraviolet air cleaners in the nurse’s facilities, Bielen said.

“It essentially uses ultraviolet lighting to kill germs in the air,” Bielen said. “It not only improves the air quality, but kills off any airborne bacteria as it occurs or may occur.”

Bielen said the district is also planning to purchase air purification systems for larger rooms with central air conditioning systems, including auditoriums and cafeterias.

“If we do have a larger group of individuals, we’ll be able to purify the air after we install those systems,” Bielen said.

Helping the Community

In addition to keeping the schools clean and safe, the district’s Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Sean McArthur and Custodial Staff Coordinator Antonio “Tony” Cuccaro have been hard at work helping the community, school officials said.

In March, McArthur and Cuccaro were recognized by the Westfield Police Department for their work regularly cleaning the Westfield Police Department’s facilities and vehicles. Bielen added that facilities staff are also assisting the Department of Public Works and Fire Department with cleaning.

During the board meeting, both McArthur and Cuccaro thanked the district for supporting their efforts.

“Thank you guys for giving us the support and the empowerment to do the things that we’re able to do to help our community, the school district, as well as keeping everyone as healthy and safe as possible,” McArthur said.

Cuccaro said he appreciates the opportunity to support first responders and the community.

“I’d like to thank you guys for giving me the opportunity to help these people, the police, the fire department [and] the township,” Cuccaro said. “We like to help them out as much as possible. They’re the ones that are there every day for us.”

Looking Ahead

The district is projected to finish upgrading the air conditioning units at the high school computer room this summer, and it has multiple projects including classroom and bathroom renovations on its schedule for summer 2021, Bielen said. It’s still unclear what the beginning of the next school year will look like, he said.

“We still don’t know necessarily everything that’s happening in September,” Bielen said. “A lot of the decisions we’re making [are] going to be based on state guidance and where they direct us to go.”

As the district prepares to move forward, Dolan said the district is looking at how to change device use procedures to keep students safe.

“Up to this year, multiple classes of students would utilize the same Chromebooks over the course of the school day,” she said. “Clearly, we have to change this practice.”

The district is also looking at how to improve security in the schools once they do reopen.

Bielen said the district is in the process of applying for the Alyssa’s Law Grant. Alyssa’s Law, named for Parkland shooting victim Alyssa Alhadeff, was signed into law in New Jersey in 2019 and requires districts to install panic buttons in school buildings. The district would use the grant to fund security enhancements, Bielen said.

“We are going to apply for that, we’re just waiting for some final work to be done that provides panic buttons that go directly to the police station,” he said. “Whatever grant money we get, we’re going to look at how we can potentially use that money for security programs within the district.”

The Westfield school board is scheduled to meet next on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 7:30 p.m., though additional meetings during the summer may be added to the schedule, Board President Peggy Oster said.

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