Federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief (ESSER) allocations has spurred optimism in school districts across the country. Projects that would ordinarily be nearly impossible to tackle are underway. Here are examples—and a chance to up your bidding capacity too.
K-12 Dive reports that many school districts are strategically using ESSER funds for “comprehensive infrastructure projects that will reduce costs and stabilize budgets for years to come, all while modernizing the learning environment to meet changing needs post-pandemic.” For example, Dekalb County Schools leveraged ESSER funds “to improve indoor air quality….By addressing their maintenance backlog and implementing energy and operational conservation technologies…the county reduced costs by 29 percent. DeKalb’s leaders captured those savings and reinvested them to improve safety and security measures on campus, an important project that the district was struggling to fund.” Another example of how carefully planned construction projects can result in a “foundation for improved efficiency, streamlined operations and more flexible, effective learning spaces” is the St. Joseph School District in Missouri, where ESSER funds have been used for “comprehensive facility enhancement.” Specifically:
The multi-phase project includes many air quality improvements, including replacing end-of-lifecycle HVAC systems and extending heating and cooling into new parts of school buildings that were not previously conditioned. These improvements will enhance the learning environment for the students and save the district nearly $4 million over 15 years.
These same building initiatives that can be covered by ESSER today have traditionally been funded by taxpayers.…Thanks to this once-in-a-generation stimulus program, districts that are proactive and allocate all available funding by the deadlines, can demonstrate to the community how they’re leading through wise fiscal stewardship.
With time ticking on use of the ESSER funds, contractors expect the next two summers will be an especially busy time for executing school projects. K-12 Dive points out that the time crunch is on for spending out ESSER dollars ahead of deadlines, though the government has made some provisions for extension:
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DoE) adopted a new timeline that makes facility modernization and capital improvement projects much more feasible for district leaders. The DoE extended the spending timelines related to ESSER III School Funding, which provides schools with $122 billion in relief and recovery funds. Before the extension, all funds had to be obligated by September 30, 2024 and spent within 120 days, by January 2025. Under these tight timelines, labor shortages and supply chain issues were putting much-needed capital improvement projects at risk of non-completion. Now, districts may extend the spending timelines up to 18 months, to April 2026, to complete a project. Funds still must be allocated by September 30, 2024. States need to formally apply to the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of their school districts to receive the extension.
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Construction Dive reports that the Virginia Board of Education has recently voted to invest $365 million in school construction: “The money will fund 40 projects in elementary, middle and high schools across 28 school divisions primarily located in central, south and western Virginia.” But that’s not all. Recognizing that the construction workforce of tomorrow is in school today:
Lisa Coons, Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced $600,000 in competitive grants awarded to 16 school divisions for upgrading equipment for career and technical education and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. Each division will receive $37,500 to purchase new equipment or make other improvements to enhance learning. “These grants continue to allow our school divisions to develop robust and innovative CTE programs that are up to date technologically and help prepare students for the realities and expectations of today’s workforce,” Coons said.
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