UCT Protects its Learners and Staff Against Covid-19 with an Extensive Clean-Air Project, with SFI Group
In January 2021 SFI’s Project Department was appointed on a multi-million Rand fast track project to execute a Covid-19 mitigation covering the Middle Campus, Masingene Building and Wilfred and Jules Kramer Building. It also included various other buildings, such as Anatomy, Bernard Fuller, Falmouth, Medical Library, Wernher and Beit North, and Wolfson Pavilion on the Medical Campus.
“One of the strategies to address Covid-19 in the built environment is to introduce high ventilation rates to essentially dilute the viral load in the air,” explains Edward Hector, Founder and MD of SFI Group. “A second strategy is to install a higher efficiency filter to catch smaller particles than a building is normally designed for. This project demonstrates that both these initiatives require extensive design and modification to existing systems.”
Being an innovative institution, the University of Cape Town jumped to action when faced with the threat that the Covid-19 pandemic presented to their learning environment. They collaborated with well-renowned leaders in the mechanical consulting industry, Spoormaker and Partners and proceeded to release a tender with explicit specifications which needed to be met by leaders in the air-conditioning and air-purification industry.
Equally innovative, SFI rose to the challenge through their trademark characteristics of teamwork, dedication and an ethos of service excellence instilled by its founder, Edward Hector.
What UCT Required
According to the original specification, UCT was in search of either the alteration of existing HVAC systems by converting the HVAC units to supply 100% outside air (fresh air) or the provision of a complex filtration system which would purify the return air. These multistage filtration units were coupled with the newest technology in EC fans.
The SFI Project Office has incorporated both requirements, having been presented with the opportunity to provide a hybrid solution. The SFI team fitted HEPA filters throughout the installation, with a dual filtration system installed in specific areas, such as laboratories and 100% fresh air supply in more generalised spaces, such as common areas, which accommodates for the assembly of somewhat larger groups in these areas.
How SFI Cleared the Air
Within the laboratories, the air filters through the initial (primary) bag filter allows for the catchment of dust particles and standard debris naturally found in the environment. After the initial filtration, the air makes its way through the HEPA filter, which is more fibrous and densely compacted, thus capturing smaller particles. This acts as the effective defence barrier against the spread of airborne viruses such as Covid-19.
The common areas have an identical filtration mechanism in place, with the exception that the air flowing in is 100% fresh air from outside.
As the HEPA filters are densely compacted, the quality of air pressure within the ducts would normally be compromised, however high intensity EC fans have been installed and these ensure that the air is forced through the filters. Sensors which are programmed to assess the air-flow requirement in the space, allow for higher or lower air pressure, depending on how densely populated the space is, at any given time.
“The main challenges of working in this environment were primarily experienced in the lab environments,” says Shaydon Victor, project lead for SFI. “Here, we were unable to move or disturb their specifically-calibrated machines, and the installation team was required to work around the equipment in order to do the installation.”
Furthermore, many of the labs require a controlled environment, therefore any vibration, noise or dust in the air would compromise the quality of the studies being conducted.
Collaboration Towards a United Goal
Care, consideration and collaboration were at the heart of this enterprise, with all parties making a combined effort to ensure that the installation was a raging success.
“The SFI Project Team performed exceptionally well,” says Shayden, “considering the huge amount of pressure that they were under.”
“We are immensely proud of our team’s achievement,” concludes Edward, “and grateful to the client for the opportunity to provide a safer, cleaner environment for all staff and students.”