Making Schools Healthier and Safer Using Federal ESSER Funding Grants

Montana schools have a unique opportunity to upgrade their building systems thanks to a Federal relief program known by the acronym ESSER that addresses educational challenges. This program brings a combined total of $605 million to Montana schools

There are three rounds of ESSER funding. The latest round, the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) program, brings $382 million to help Montana schools. A key focus is achieving healthier learning environments, reducing the transmission of viruses, improving air quality, and lowering energy bills.

Indoor pollution, virus transmission, poor air quality, inadequate ventilation, and lack of or inadequate heat or air conditioning can all make classrooms uncomfortable, get in the way of learning, and contribute to or exacerbate health challenges like asthma, allergies, and long-term health issues. Updating and upgrading school HVAC systems can dramatically improve comfort and make learning healthier for everyone.

What are ESSER Grants?

ESSER grants are federal pandemic relief funding grants to help schools operate safely. There have been three rounds of ESSER grants: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (ESSER I) which expired in 2022, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (ESSER II) which expires in 2023, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP ESSER) which expires in 2024.

What Can ESSER Funds Be Used For?

ESSER Funds are intended to help make a wide range of educational improvements, including making schools safer and healthier for students and staff. Schools can use grant funds to address systems and equipment concerns related to indoor air quality. Key grant focuses include reducing the risk of virus transmission, reducing student exposure to environmental hazards, and supporting student health needs.

Covid-relief ESSER funds can be used by public and private schools for qualifying school upgrades, renovations, and construction. These funds need to be awarded by September 30, 2024.

What ESSER Improvements Would Improve The Health of Your School?

Indoor air quality is critically important, especially since people spend the majority of their time indoors. The quality of indoor air in schools can affect absenteeism, test scores, and student and staff productivity according to the EPA. Healthy air means less transmitted illness, less missed school, and reduced exposure to allergens and pollutants.

Schools should consider thorough inspection and testing of both mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to identify what meets current needs and what doesn’t. Grant funds can be used to install new systems or to repair, replace or upgrade existing systems.

Air cleaning, including purification and or filtering, and air movement are essential elements of quality indoor air to consider.

Building control systems can continually monitor and coordinate heating, cooling, and air quality systems to deliver a safe and comfortable indoor environment. Indoor air quality sensors and monitors can alert if air quality issues arise.

How Can FICO Help Schools Be Healthier Places?

FICO is the Montana authority in building management and system integrations and that translates to true expertise when it comes to air quality, heating, and cooling systems. FICO has the staff expertise to assist with assessment, design, planning, and implementation so that your school can provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable environment for kids to learn in.

Retro-commissioning, a systematic approach to maximizing the performance of existing mechanical and control systems within buildings, provides the greatest opportunity to positively impact the largest number of students. Over time, existing systems degrade or experience failures that negatively affect indoor air quality and energy performance. Retro-commissioning can identify hidden issues and bring existing systems back to working as intended.

Replacement and upgrading of HVAC, mechanical, and control systems can improve indoor air quality and reduce energy and maintenance costs. Perhaps your school building’s footprint has been expanded over time or air conditioning was never installed. FICO’s team of engineers can help identify the best new systems to accommodate your older building’s unique needs so that it delivers optimum health and comfort.

FICO can help schools improve indoor air quality in four ways:

  1. Increase Ventilation:  bringing in more fresh outside air to replace indoor air can reduce airborne contaminants
  2. Improve Filtration:  The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter. ASHRAE recommends MERV 13 or higher for K-12 schools whenever possible
  3. UV Lamps / Ionization: UV lamps not only kill pathogens – they keep coils clean, which reduces pressure drop and enables the installation of more sophisticated filters
  4. Relative Humidity:  Keeping indoor humidity within the ASHRAE 55 suggested range (40% and 60%) can minimize the effects of bacteria and certain allergens

Healthier Schools, Better Learning

It makes sense to turn to an expert with extensive building experience to help your school figure out how to best leverage ESSER grant funds into healthier, more efficient places for children to learn. FICO has the team, the knowledge, and the experience to do just that. Whether your school chooses retro-commissioning to bring all systems and controls into optimal operation— or to install new equipment and systems— you can count on the knowledge, skills, and support to get the job done with expertise.

FICO provides turnkey building management and system integration services for technically complex buildings in Montana and beyond. From design and installation to ongoing maintenance and security, our best-in-class people and products help you achieve operational savings and minimize risk as you work to provide reliable and safe environments.

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