New funding options for K-12 facility improvements
February 13, 2023
The following was written by Andrew Zwally, SitelogIQ Northeast Regional Director of Government Affairs & Special Projects.
Each year, schools across the country are home to new students and staff, each with unique and varying educational programming needs and expectations. As a space for both education and growth, your school’s learning environment may require upgrades to improve your energy efficiency and indoor air quality, which impact students’ health and performance. Funding for these types of infrastructure projects is often limited, however, both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act may be the key to helping you achieve those facility improvements.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, was signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The investment into rebuilding America’s infrastructure includes a variety of funding opportunities to improve facilities by delivering healthy and safe schools. The Department of Energy recently announced a funding opportunity under its Renew America’s Schools grant program to fund projects involving:
  • High-Impact Energy Efficiency and Health Improvements, which includes direct reductions to school’s energy costs, increase in energy efficiency, improved teacher, and student health benefits, and
  • Innovative Energy Technology Packages, which includes energy efficiency measures, renewable energy technologies, and alternative fuels for school uses.
Eligible applicants had until January 26, 2023, to submit concept papers for review, with a final application deadline of April 21, 2023.
Inflation Reduction Act
The Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law by President Biden in August 2022. This act prioritizes the investment into renewable energy and related technologies, such as the deployment of heat-pumps, community solar, and EV charging stations. The IRA will offer funding for projects involving:
  • Energy efficient equipment and installation (HVAC, lighting, etc.),
  • Renewable energy systems,
  • Demand control energy storage,
  • Water conservation fixtures, and
  • EV charging fleets and infrastructure.
In addition, dedicated funding sources for school air quality grants and technical assistance have been created as a part of the IRA in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. These specific grants include:
  • $37.5 million for activities to monitor and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities, and
  • $12.5 million for technical assistance to schools in low-income and disadvantaged communities to address environmental issues; develop school environmental quality plans that include standards for school building, design, construction and renovation; and to identify and mitigate ongoing air pollution hazards.
Guidance for the IRA, which will include parameters and deadlines for applying for funding, has yet to be released and the EPA was seeking public input for their school air quality grants and technical assistance through January 2023.
How these projects benefit your K-12 district
The quality of your school’s infrastructure can greatly impact the health of your students and staff as well as your students’ ability to perform academically. We know that your top priority is keeping them in the learning environment. The IRA program can provide funding to help your district complete facility updates to create a healthier learning environment while improving your energy efficiency. Some examples of improvement projects the funding may support include:
1. Lighting — While natural light has a variety of positive influences on learning and productivity due to its psychological and physiological effects, it’s not without its disadvantages. It can’t be the only light source, of course, as inclement weather, early winter darkness and nighttime events all require a secondary source of lighting. Energy-saving lighting is an area where many schools can save money. Replacing old, headache-inducing lights with LED bulbs can reduce energy costs, decrease maintenance needs, and even improve safety due to their reduced heat output. These eco-friendly lights can also pair with advanced lighting controls.
Connecting your lights to the Internet of Things can automate the task of keeping your building bright. You can reduce consumption by turning off lights in spaces that are not in use or install lights that respond to the amount of natural daylight present, reducing or increasing the brightness as necessary. Many of these lighting solutions can also help make your facility more sustainable.
2. Indoor Air Quality — Indoor air quality (IAQ) has a pronounced effect on children compared to adults, making IAQ in schools a matter of special importance. Poor IAQ can have an immediate impact on students and teachers, causing allergic reactions or asthma attacks in severe cases. IAQ impacts comfort levels as well, either promoting or detracting from positive attitudes and concentration. No one wants to feel trapped in a stuffy room.
In addition to these immediately felt consequences, exposure to pollutants like dust, mold and mildew can be detrimental to health long-term.
One study even found that teachers with prolonged exposure to relative humidity levels that were either too high or too low were more likely to experience respiratory problems. Bacteria, viruses, allergens and irritants may continue to thrive in a room despite efforts to sanitize surfaces because the relative humidity is contributing to the problem.
Every school should have their IAQ assessed to determine effective improvement measures. This includes auditing the HVAC system and identifying any potential pollutants that need to be filtered. A humidifier or dehumidifier may help maintain comfortable and healthy relative humidity levels.
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