April 30, 2024 at 7:50am

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Elena Ferrarin

Article by Elena Ferrarin

Communications Coordinator
Northbrook Park District


The Northbrook Park District’s Techny Prairie Activity Center (TPAC) successfully met the stringent criteria set by UL Solutions and achieved the UL Verified Ventilation and Filtration Mark, the first of its kind to measure the efficacy of ventilation and filtration systems in removing aerosols from enclosed spaces.

TPAC is the first parks and recreation facility to undergo an assessment and receive this verification from UL Solutions.

The achievement is evidence of the park district’s steadfast commitment to promoting health and sustainability, Northbrook Park District Executive Director Chris Leiner said.

“Our TPAC facility is a pioneer, not only in the park district industry but in overall commercial construction. It is one of the first net-zero energy buildings in Illinois, and now also the first parks and recreation building in the United States proven to meet this high mark in terms of air ventilation and filtration,” Leiner said. “Providing safer air quality is a top priority, and our innovative solutions, backed by independent third-party verification, support the well-being of our occupants and create a healthier environment for all.”

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, inadequate ventilation is the largest source of indoor air quality risk. Infectious aerosols — such as the viruses that cause COVID-19, influenza, RSV and the common cold — are a threat to public health due to their high transmissibility along with their ability to remain airborne for hours and migrate beyond 25 feet indoors.

However, building owners and operators could not historically verify real-world ventilation and filtration performance for aerosol removal until the UL Verified Ventilation and Filtration program was launched in March 2022 by UL Solutions, based in Northbrook.

“At a time where indoor air quality as well as energy efficiency should be a high priority for everyone, to make the statement that we lead in both is important,” said Northbrook Park District Trades Manager Jake Vest. “This shows we are committed to our mission of serving the public by providing health and sustainability, putting us at the forefront of publicly provided services.”

The UL Solutions program consists of an on-site assessment of ventilation and filtration performance combined with a comprehensive desktop review of the data. The on-site assessment is done via patented aerosol tracing technology from California-based SafeTraces to safely simulate respiratory emissions and exposure to airborne pathogens. The UL Verified Mark is delivered through the UL Solutions Marketing Claim Verification service.

The threshold to achieve the UL Verified Ventilation and Filtration Mark is 99% aerosol removal in representative high-density areas, as well as at least two air change rates per hour for the entire building. TPAC successfully met all of these criteria.

“The Northbrook Park District’s Techny Prairie Activity Center has demonstrated a clear commitment to a healthier indoor environment by earning the first UL Verified Ventilation and Filtration Mark for a parks and recreation facility,” said Joel Ritschel, director of Enterprise Sustainability in the Healthy Buildings group at UL Solutions. “This achievement offers members of the community a source of reassurance when it comes to the indoor air quality where they exercise and play, backed by third-party verification from UL Solutions.”

SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom agreed.

“Health and wellness are core to the purpose and mission of parks and recreation facilities,” Malmstrom said. “The Northbrook Park District’s commitment to delivering healthy, green buildings for their community is truly inspiring and sets the standard for other public buildings around the country.”

Vest said he learned about SafeTraces’ innovative technology after meeting Malmstrom at the International Facilities Management Association’s (IFMA) annual conference in September. Air quality testing at TPAC was done in early December, at various times on the same day, and with variables such as fans on or off and doors open or closed.

All four high-occupancy areas tested at TPAC — both group fitness rooms and two offices — successfully exceeded the 99% aerosol removal threshold set by the UL Solutions program.

The balance between air quality and energy efficiency is a delicate one to strike, Vest said. For example, a common way to ventilate is to introduce additional outside air, but that increases energy usage. Also, outside air doesn’t necessarily equate to cleaner air, as evidenced by last summer’s Canadian wildfires that caused poor air quality throughout the region, Vest added.

The cutting-edge HVAC technology used at TPAC was purposefully engineered to strike that balance, Vest said.

“We have done quite a bit of testing and data analysis to ensure that we bring in the minimum amount of outside air while ensuring optimal quality,” Vest said. “That intersection of indoor air quality and energy efficiency is the goal you want not just for TPAC, but for any facility, whether public or private.”