Schools Prioritize Federal Funds For Air Filtration, HVAC Upgrades

A USGBC report finds that school relief funds are used to create a healthier working and learning environments for staff and students.

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U.S. school districts are committing funding from last year’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) to upgrading or improving their air filtration and heating/cooling systems—more so than for other facility improvements, according to a new report.

The report from the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) analyzed the ARP-ESSER spending plans of 5,004 school districts that span all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The research revealed that air filtration/HVAC is the second-highest category for district planned spending at $5.5 billion.

Other categories analyzed include $2.6 billion planned for repairing/improving school facilities, $271 million for upgrading windows, roofs, and doors, and nearly $11 million for UV lighting for disease mitigation. In the air filtration/HVAC category and the repairs category, the average planned spend is approximately $260,000 per school. Around 500 school districts plan to spend over $1 million per school on one or both of these categories.

Additional Key Findings:

  • Small and medium-sized districts (those with 20 or fewer schools) consistently report more spending on facilities categories than their larger counterparts.
  • Of the 2,379 school districts that plan to spend any ESSER III funding on facilities, large districts plan to spend the lowest percentage (on average 22%) and small districts plan to spend the highest percentage of their total allocation (on average, 30%).
  • In addition to filtration and HVAC improvements, in most cases, districts that plan to spend in this category indicated plans to spend in at least one other facilities category, displaying a layered approach to addressing COVID at the building infrastructure level.
  • District interviewees highlight the importance of having substantial federal dollars to invest in costly HVAC infrastructure projects, which would otherwise be delayed or addressed in phases. However, they note they face real constraints on their projects as a result of the pandemic, associated supply chain issues, and the rising rate of inflation.
  • District interviewees also note that where HVAC upgrades were made in their schools, they were able to keep energy usage and costs to a minimum compared to schools with outdated systems. Similarly, districts report positive results from spending in other facilities categories to reduce the spread of COVID in the school buildings.

“Federal funding has given school districts a financial lifeline to make improvements at schools and help reduce the risk of COVID infection,” said Anisa Heming, Director for the USGBC Center of Green Schools. “These upgrades can go beyond the pandemic and yield positive results that last far into the future.

“By investing in school facility upgrades, these schools are creating healthier working and learning environments for staff and students, and we will continue to encourage districts to allocate remaining funds to green building strategies that improve health and operational performance.”

The full report can be found here.

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