Pandemic prompts installation of ‘air cleaning technology’ in fairgrounds buildings

by | Jan 25, 2021

Several buildings on the grounds of the N.C. State Fair and the N.C. Mountain State Fair/WNC Agricultural Center now have advanced technology added to their air filtration systems. The technology comes with new equipment that’s been installed with health and safety in mind, as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

You could think of the new equipment as magic, but as neat as that sounds, the actual science sounds pretty neat on its own. It’s not too complicated to understand either.

The new equipment adds bipolar ionization
technology to the existing HVAC systems in the buildings. Kent Yelverton, the fair manager and division director, explained it like this:

The new equipment integrated into each building’s HVAC ductwork puts a magnetic charge on particles in the air, which causes them to clump together and become large enough to be captured by the system’s filters. That means anything concerning in the air, such as a virus, is more likely to get “trapped” in the filtration system and is less likely to recirculate in the building. [Read more about how the technology works on the Global Plasma Solutions website.]

“We were able to install it in all the fairgrounds buildings that have HVAC systems that recirculate air,” Yelverton said.

At the Raleigh fairgrounds, that includes the following buildings: Scott, Exposition, Graham, Martin, Commercial and Education (which are connected), maintenance, the office and cafeteria of the Hunt Horse Complex and the fairgrounds administration building. Yelverton pointed out that the list includes anywhere employees work for extended periods on a daily basis. So added safety for employees was a factor along with improved safety for visitors and others who use the buildings.

“In these times when we are working hard to host all the events we feel the fairgrounds can host safely and within the guidelines from executive orders and DHHS, we feel this provides additional safety and assurance that we are putting safety first for people to feel better about attending events here,” Yelverton said, adding that the visitors include event hosts and vendors. “We are successful when the people who host events here are confidant, so this is a means to add some assurance for people who come to attend events here.”

Matt Buchanan, the manager of the WNC Ag Center and N.C. Mountain State Fair, said the new equipment could make a big difference for vendors who would normally spend hours inside the buildings during events. He mentioned that the annual Christmas show was cancelled in large part because many vendors decided they didn’t want to participate. He believes the bipolar ionization could make many people feel more comfortable moving forward.

“The main thing is we’re trying to make it as safe as we can for people and our employees,” Buchanan said. “I know people feel good when you’re doing as much as you can.”

At the WNC Ag Center just outside Asheville, the following buildings now have bipolar ionization equipment added to the HVAC systems:  Davis Event Center, Expo, Virginia Boone (excluding the McGough horse arena) and the administrative offices.

A borrowed idea from the Agricultural Sciences Center

Yelverton explained that the money for the new systems came from the CARES Act. The N.C. General Assembly appropriated some of the federal CARES Act dollars to the N.C. State Fair and the N.C. Mountain Fair in a grant to the N.C. Fair Association. The money was restricted to uses directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The State Fair received half a million dollars,” Yelverton said. “We looked at what options we had that would be appropriate use of the funds and that could get done in a relatively short period of time.”

Yelverton said he and other administrators quickly thought of bipolar ionization because it’s a feature that was added to the Agricultural Sciences Center. There was a long list of other possible ways to use the funds, but most options were equipment purchases. Administrators realized that arranging the purchase and delivery of equipment would have become complicated to complete in the time allotted by the CARES Act.

Yelverton was already familiar with the work done at the Agricultural Sciences Center because he’s a civil engineer who worked on the project as director of the Property and Construction Division before moving to the State Fair. So he contacted Stanford White, the mechanical engineering company that oversaw the installation of bipolar ionization equipment at the Agricultural Sciences Center. Once the company decided the equipment could be added to the fairgrounds buildings, the Property and Construction Division approved it as an emergency project.

Stanford White oversaw the fairgrounds project also, and WATCO Mechanical was hired to do the installation. There was some worry about the availability of equipment because, although the technology has been around for decades, there’s been a recent shortage of parts to install it because more companies are getting the equipment as they look to bring employees back to their buildings.

The experience and relationships already established through the Agricultural Sciences Center project helped the fairgrounds project move along. The new bipolar ionization equipment passed a final inspection on December 21.

Both Yelverton and Buchanan mentioned that the bipolar ionization will help with much more than capturing coronavirus in the air. The technology should help filter out other concerns in the air too, such as the common cold, the flu virus or perhaps another new virus variants.

“There’s no telling what else may pop up,” Buchanan said. “So we’re trying to make it as safe and healthy as possible.”