Fairfield's kids can breathe a little easier now. And Thomas Cullen has the documentation to prove it. Fairfield Public Schools received two awards recently from the state for improving indoor air quality.
"[The schools] are just getting better and better every day," said Cullen, director of operations for the schools.
The district earned the state's Great Start and Leadership awards for the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Tools for Schools program. In 2005, the state Department of Public Health challenged school systems to improve the air quality inside its buildings.
Fairfield started with a wave of renovations to bring each school up to date. Central administration then established teams at each school made up of the principal, custodian, nurse, teachers and parents. These committees meet monthly to go over complaints. They then tour the school, looking for problems with ventilation systems, furnaces and other things that can be handled through preventative maintenance.
"We can't be in the schools every day, every minute," Cullen says. "They know the school, they come there every day. So [the team] is the eyes, ears and nose of the facility."
The town's commitment to air quality extends to its school buses. Two years ago, Fairfield bought two natural gas-burning buses, replacing old diesel engines. With the help of state grants, those buses cost the same as regular vehicles. The district outfitted the remaining buses with diesel particulate filters, making their emissions "100 percent cleaner."
And with construction under way at many schools, the district is making sure no debris gets into the air. For example, all renovation sites must have negative air pressure, so all fine particles are pushed outside the building.
Cullen says his office received 38 complaints about air quality in 2003-04, his first year on the job. By 2009-10, the number dropped to six.
"We've got the community involved, which is always good," he says. "[The program] is building up, and it's getting stronger and stronger."