On September 30, 2020

Legislature doubles funds to support air quality in schools

Grants doled out to local schools

By Polly Mikula

After the $6.5 million that was initially allocated by the state to improve air quality in schools throughout Vermont was quickly claimed, Vermont House approved an increase to $11.5 million then the Senate proposed a further increase to $13.5 million.

The program was created to improve ventilation and air filtration systems in support of safer school environments. The total amount needed to address HVAC in public schools as a mitigation measure for Covid-19 is estimated to be in the range of $12-18 million, according to the Vermont School Board Association (VSBA).

The money has come at a convenient time for the Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD), which was already in the process of purchasing and installing an HVAC system for The Prosper Valley School before such funding was announced.

(TPVS was closed in the fall of 2018 after mold was discovered and hasn’t been reopened.)

WCUUSD had allocated $100,000 toward a HVAC system and $30,000 for deep cleaning at TPVS, but will likely not need to use all of that funding. When the project was put up for bids in July, the winning estimates totaled just $71,000. And TPVS received a grant from the state for $14,000 toward the HVAC system.

Additionally, Woodstock High school received $54,000 toward a $55,000 make-up air system.

But a timeline for reopening TPVS is still undetermined.

Bob Crean, former school board member from Pomfret, wrote an update on the air quality improvement measures, repairs and potential timeline for reopening TPVS to the Pomfret listserv in August.

“First, the repairs to the foundation footing drains are complete and appears to be working great! That system is now carrying away from the building the tens of thousands of gallons of water coming off the roof each month,” he wrote.

But “due to increased demand and limited supply due to Covid-19, it may be 10 weeks before the hardware is available to install. The installation itself will take a week or so,” he added.

“Then, the final cleaning needs to be done, and again, due to Covid-19 demand for such services, it may be November or December before this is completed, making the earliest estimated availability perhaps January,” he speculated.

Crean, however, questioned whether use by students  was in fact the plan for TVPS.

“It does not appear (from the proposed reopening plan), that the school will play any role in reducing student density at WES, a strategy that may be critical depending on how the school year unfolds vis-a-vis Covid-19.  Whether that changes upon completion of the repairs and cleaning remains to be seen,” he wrote. “There certainly does not seem to be any urgency to bring the building back on line.”

The Building & Grounds committee at WCUUSD has stated that its goal is to get the  building  back to pre-closed conditions such that it can be occupied. However, it is not in the purview of B&G to address how the building should be used for the district, said board member Jim Haff.

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