School officials worry about deadline for state grants to fund HVAC projects

To encourage public schools to replace, upgrade, or install heating, ventilation, or air conditioning (HVAC) systems, Governor Ned Lamont signed legislation establishing a new grant program with up to $150 million. dollars available for reimbursement. School districts, however, find the December 1 application deadline difficult to meet.

Noel Petra, the state Department’s deputy commissioner of administrative services, said on a Sept. 30, online seminar on the program that ministry staff understand that this is a tight deadline.

“But the way the legislation was drafted, you only have two years to do the job and by giving that timeframe it will give you two summer windows to complete the job,” Petra said.

Wallingford school administrators and the school board considered applying for the grant program, but school board president Tammy Raccio and superintendent Danielle Bellizzi said the district was no longer applying because it couldn’t meet the requirements. by December 1.

These requirements include a facilities study and assessment of building conditions, a long-term capital plan, obtaining a local share of funding, and the preparation and adoption of education specifications. A construction committee should also be set up.

Bellizzi said all schools have been air quality tested, so the district doesn’t have an urgent need to update or replace its HVAC systems.

“Our air quality has been tested at all of our schools to ensure it meets state and local guidelines,” Bellizzi said. “The grant was sent to all districts with a short delay. Should other grants arise in the future, we will certainly review them for feasibility of application. »

Michael Grove, assistant director of finance and operations for Meriden Public Schools, said Meriden is pursuing the HVAC program grant application. However, the December deadline has made it difficult for school administrators to come up with larger HVAC-related projects they might want to pursue during the grant program.

The aspect of the program that Grove said he was most disappointed with is that the district cannot use American Rescue Plan Act grants to supplement the amount the state would provide.

Grove said Meriden will be requesting new air conditioning for all schools in the district, but without ARPA funds, the district is now requesting a new chiller for John Barry Elementary School. The cost is estimated at $290,000, with the state reimbursing approximately 77% of the funds.

“We thought we could request air conditioning for all of our schools,” Grove said.

According to the Sept. 30 webinar, “State law restricts districts from using other state or federal funds exclusively to cover the local share — this includes ARPA funds.”

DAS legal director Jenna Padula said districts can use ARPA funds in a specific way, however. For example, if a district had a $100 project, a 50% reimbursement rate, and $20 of ARPA funds, they could use the $20 to reduce the total project cost from $100 to $80.

“And then apply the 50% reimbursement rate so that the city pays $40 and the state reimburses $40,” Padula said.

Districts, however, cannot take the 50% rebate out of the $100 and then use the $20 to reduce the municipal share from $50 to $30.

Grove said Meriden aims to submit the HVAC grant application before Thanksgiving.

For other grant applications, Grove said the district gets the grant first and then goes to the city and school board before starting the project. For this grant, the district reverses that and goes to the city and council before even applying for the grant. With the typical timeline for getting the grant approved, Grove said the process made the Dec. 1 deadline tricky.

“It usually takes a few months to get it approved by the city and council,” Grove said.

Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, said the CEA has been fighting to improve air quality in Connecticut schools for about 10 years. Poor air quality at school can make learning difficult.

“This (app) is a great opportunity to start that process,” Dias said.

The difficult aspect of this application, Dias said, is that districts may not have large HVAC projects in place.

“They update systems when they can, so many districts didn’t have a plan in place,” Dias said.

Dias said CEA would support extending the HVAC grant application deadline, but stressed that districts having difficulty completing the application on time should appeal to DAS.

“The more districts that go to DAS, the better,” Dias said.

[email protected]: @jessica_simms99

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