Federal funding could help install fresh air units in local schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 28, 2021

SALISBURY – An unprecedented injection of federal funding into local schools could be used to overhaul air systems across Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

The $66 million in federal COVID-19 relief the district is expecting must be used for offsetting learning loss and improving air quality in school facilities.

“One thing that we are working toward is updating our HVAC systems so we can bring fresh air into our classrooms,” Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said. “Many of our systems are aged and they are not equipped to bring fresh air in.”

Vann said this is a once-in-a-lifetime block of funding that will allow the district to make those improvements. He estimated the cost of currently needed air quality projects to be about $15 million, which would ensure air pulled into classrooms is fresh and stagnant air would be expelled. Vann said systems would have to be designed for each facility that needs an upgrade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says good ventilation can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by preventing viral particulate from accumulating. The state has placed an emphasis on outdoor learning during the pandemic as a means of infection control, and many RSS schools have added outdoor classrooms in the previous year.

Anyone 12 and older can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina, though people in the 12-17 range only can receive the Pfizer shot. Younger children can’t be vaccinated yet.

RSS recently spent $6.5 million on upgrading HVAC systems, but Vann said heating and air is the single largest line item the district has for capital needs. In addition to the air exchange equipment, existing systems need new parts and units.

“The environment in our classrooms for our staff and our students is critical,” Vann said. “I think that’s something we need to address and it’s specifically spelled out in the funding.”

Vann said the district is looking at replacing inefficient doors and windows as well.

The funding would come from a $167 billion block of funding distributed to the states and is from two bills passed by Congress in December and March.

The district will spend about $2 million of the funding on expanded summer school programs this year. The district has until September of 2023 to spend $20.4 million of the funding and until the same time in 2024 to spend the second block, about $45.6 million.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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