As Hamilton County Schools works to return all its students to campus, federal funds have been used to boost air circulation in classrooms.
Upgrading ventilation was one of a number of changes to guidelines on school operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic released recently by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
School districts have received federal money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Hamilton County Schools received $9.8 million in one round of funding and $38.8 million from another, according to a presentation to the school board on March 15.
The district is budgeting 12.3% of the second round for facilities needs and maintenance, or about $4.4 million. The facilities needs and maintenance category is a new category added to the second round, deputy superintendent Nakia Towns said during the March 15 school board budget workshop.
About half of the money in the facilities category will go toward window replacements to improve air circulation at East Ridge Middle School, East Ridge High School, Hixson High School and Red Bank High School, said an email from district communications officer Cody Patterson. The four schools were included in a list of schools needing renovations in a facilities report by MTG Consulting Group last March, with other schools listed as needing a new building, increased capacity, new locations or closure.
The window projects consist of full window replacements to improve air quality in buildings, officials said. The window replacement at East Ridge High School started in November and was completed in January, while the replacement at East Ridge Middle School started in January and was finished last month, said Hamilton County Schools chief operations officer Justin Robertson. Hixson High School is likely the next in line for window replacements, he said. There was no information given on when the Red Bank upgrades might begin.
"Some of them are complicated projects, and with these funds there's a deadline that they have to be spent by, so any of our capital projects that are in them have to be projects that we can realistically complete within that timeline. So East Ridge Middle was a little bit less complicated, but we're going to run into things that can extend these projects that you can't really plan for," Robertson said. "A good example is, you might get into one of the buildings, especially the older buildings, and as you start to do the removal of the existing windows, we might run into maybe a caulk that used asbestos back in the day, and so we would have to abate those windows before we replace them, and the time frame is something that we've got to pay attention to and make sure that the projects meet the guidelines."
The district expects to receive approval for use of the second round of relief funds in about a week, Robertson said.
"We will continue utilizing the mitigation strategies (e.g., SAFE pledge, contact tracing, testing, etc.) that have allowed us to pursue in-person learning the majority of this school year," Patterson said by email. "We appreciate the CDC providing additional guidelines on school operations and will continue to review their recommendations."
A heating and air project might come up in later rounds of funding, Robertson said. The district has until September 2023 to use funding from the second round.
Contact Anika Chaturvedi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.