COVENTRY — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many schools with aging ventilation systems have struggled to remove virus-carrying particles from the air. The University of Connecticut School of Nursing has devised an innovative solution, however, that was being installed today in Coventry schools.
Some 150 do-it-yourself air purifiers, known as Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes, built by university students on the Storrs campus over the weekend, were donated to Coventry schools to help them properly ventilate indoor spaces. The purifiers are built from commonly found materials, such as a box fan, air filters, cardboard, and duct tape, said Mikala Kane, UConn School of Nursing spokeswoman.
“I was pretty excited to have this opportunity come this way,” Coventry Superintendent David Petrone said last week. “It’s no secret that our (ventilation) systems are on the older side of things.” There’s no cost to the town for the air purifiers, which come as a result of a partnership between the school district and the university started seven years ago, he added.
“This is a very simple unit that costs about $60 that students, adults, teachers and even our students here at UConn can make, using just these simple materials,” said Marina Creed, a nurse practitioner with UConn Health who spearheaded the initiative with Michelle Cole, an associate clinical professor with the university’s School of Nursing.
Watch UConn Health Nurse Practitioner Marina Creed explain Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, which are a type of inexpensive air purifier that can remove virus carrying aerosols from the air and are built using commonly found materials. 150 of the boxes are being built by UConn School of Nursing students to be donated to Coventry Public Schools.
“Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes provide immediate relief to improve indoor air quality, the benefits of which not only impact COVID-19 but also pollen, mold, dust and other indoor allergens that can negatively impact school performance and lead to missed school days,” Creed said during a Saturday event where UConn students assembled 100 of the air purifiers for Coventry schools. Some of the purifiers have already been given to the schools, and the final delivery will be made today.
Kane said the boxes could remove up to 90% of virus carrying aerosols, dust and allergens from the air. Each box can last up to six months before filters need to be replaced.
The cubed boxes have air filters on four sides, cardboard on the bottom, and a box fan on top that is covered with cardboard with a hole cut out of the middle. It is sealed completely with duct tape to create “negative pressure,” Creed said.
“When you turn the fan on, the air has nowhere to go except through the filters to be discharged through the top of the fan,” Creed said, adding that this construction allows for “extremely high performance.”
“It reminds me of science projects I used to do as a child, but instead of taking it home for mom and dad to see, when you’re done with it, you can plug it into the wall and it actually serves a purpose. It cleans the air immediately upon turning it on,” she said.
Petrone said that the boxes would be placed in “every space occupied by students,” including classrooms and cafeterias. The hope is that the filters can help protect students and staff for months.
“We’re excited just to have another mitigation strategy,” Petrone added.
Jennifer DeRagon, George Hersey Robertson School principal, said last week that teachers “greatly appreciate” that the boxes run quietly in their classrooms all day. UConn students personalized each unit with their names and unique designs, giving local students “a sense of authentic innovation to solve real world problems using the engineering and design process.”
Captain Nathan Hale Middle School Principal Dena DeJulius said last week that teachers there plan to use the purifiers “as a lesson for our students in using creativity to help others.”
Town Councilman Matthew Kyer, who also works as the Library Media Center specialist in Coventry Grammar School, said last week that the partnership between Coventry schools and UConn is “just amazing” and that the purifiers are very quiet and non-intrusive.
“They’re just very much appreciated,” Kyer added.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced last week that he is proposing legislation to establish a grant program that would fund improvements to school air flow systems, using $90 million in federal pandemic relief funds the state received last year. Municipalities would have to provide matching grants under the plan.
“One thing the COVID-19 pandemic exposed is that many school buildings in our state, particularly those that are of a certain age, are in serious need of air quality improvements,” Lamont said last week in a prepared statement. “Some people may erroneously think that heating and cooling systems are only about temperature control, but modernized ventilation systems provide an important public health function that filtrate the air and reduce airborne contaminants, including particles containing viruses.”
Digital Editor Emily Perron contributed to this story.
Ben covers Coventry and Tolland for the Journal Inquirer.