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'Party Like It's 2019'? Maybe Soon, But Not Quite Yet...

May 21, 2021
EDITOR'S NOTE: A lot of things are moving in the right direction this spring. But tempted as we are to celebrate, caution remains the watchword. There is much work to do.

After 14 months of uncertainty, anxiety and dread, Lord knows we are all ready to exhale. And according to the CDC, as of mid-May, considerably more Americans can do so without masks.

All you have to do is be vaccinated.

As Virginia Tech engineering professor Linsey Marr told The New York Times on May 17, “Outdoors, masks are needed only for close, face-to-face conversations between unvaccinated people. Those who are vaccinated are well protected, between the vaccine and outdoor setting.”

Indeed, a lot of things are moving in the right direction this spring, and that trend is beyond welcome. In May, after the American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported a third consecutive month of growth on its Architecture Billings Index (ABI), it referred to the trend as a “meteoric rebound.”

Added AIA Chief Economist Dr. Kermit Baker, “This recent acceleration in the demand for design services demonstrates both consumers and businesses are feeling much more confident about the economic outlook… The pent-up demand for new and retrofitted facilities is keeping firms in all regions and building sectors busy.”

On May 7, citing his own research firm’s industry data for 2021’s first quarter, PSMJ Resources exec David Burstein, P.E., noted, “For the first time since the pandemic began, proposal activity in all major market sectors is increasing. Even sectors that had been slow prior to the pandemic, such as education, are now picking up steam... It’s time to party like it’s 2019!”

Actually, many of you will be too busy to “party” this summer, especially in the education sector, where school districts around the U.S. will be scrambling to prepare facilities for a return to full in-person instruction next fall. For that reason, expect another furious summer of school rehab projects, this one propelled by newly allocated federal relief dollars under the massive, $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act. Even so, funding resources are still finite, so public school districts across the U.S. will need to be wise in how they allocate those dollars.

With that in mind, HPAC Engineering will be hosting a new Webinar on June 17, specifically on how to apply “Cost-Effective O&M for COVID-19” in the education market. That was the headline for our March/April 2021 cover story from Ed Light, CIH, and Paul Tseng, P.E., who will re-focus their presentation just on schools for our online audience. (Visit HPAC.com to watch the webinar either “live” or on demand.)

As the authors have argued:

While costly upgrades to air-conditioning and cleaning are being advocated for operating buildings during the pandemic, available information suggests that relatively minor HVAC adjustments and cleaning enhancements may be sufficient to minimize COVID spread.

Looking beyond school projects, and even beyond next fall, HPAC Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Bill Bahnfleth, P.E., in May joined Prof. Marr, and dozens of other leading engineers and scientists, all experts in IAQ and/or infectious disease, to author a compelling new vision in Science magazine for how society must approach and prioritize IAQ issues in a post-pandemic world:

The rapid growth in our understanding of the mechanisms behind respiratory infection transmission should drive a paradigm shift in how we view and address the transmission of respiratory infections to protect against unnecessary suffering and economic losses. It starts with a recognition that preventing respiratory infection, like reducing waterborne or foodborne disease, is a tractable problem.

Tweeted Bahnfleth:

A beautiful vision of what is possible. To quote Saint-Exupéry, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” How do we get there from here?

Indeed, but it is still nice to see that so many of us can now at least agree on the destination.

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About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with BuiltWorlds.com, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].