After COVID, the administration and staff at Clarke Community Schools continued to pursue improvements and develop strategies focused on keeping students in the district safe from the spread of disease and possible contagions. One of those strategies was to evaluate the aging heating, cooling and ventilation systems throughout the district to determine efficacy and safety for each of their buildings.
As expected, older infrastructure and aging air systems showed making improvements as simple as ventilation and HVAC updates could be a significant factor in increasing the health and wellness of Clarke students and teachers. So, starting over the summer break of 2022, the Clarke administration, with the use of ESSER Federal Funding, began the renovation of areas in the elementary building as well as the gymnasium complex in the middle/high school buildings.
“These were updates the district has wanted to make for some time,” said Kurt DeVore, Clarke Community Schools Superintendent. “But the board was looking for ways outside the use of general funds to complete them. ESSER was the perfect solution.”
With the use of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER I and II – 84.425D, ARP ESSER – 84.425U), the district was able to implement their renovation efforts while saving upwards of $2 million of potential funds for other projects.
The ESSER fund, with the final part to the relief program enacted in March of 2021, stipulates schools use the money to fund projects specific to battling learning loss. In the scenario of COVID, districts used the funds for technology upgrades and classroom support for work-from-home solutions. As students returned in the fall of 2022, final ESSER funds were focused on making repairs and improving school facilities to reduce the risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental hazards.
“The elementary HVAC and ventilation system was in need of an update” said DeVore. “That, of course provided a cascade of other related projects that benefited under the ESSER funds umbrella.”
As students left for the summer after that first year, the HVAC renovations began in earnest, replacing the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems in both the elementary school building as well as the gymnasium in the middle/high-school building. With that, came a collection of additional updates connected to the HVAC systems, including new cabinets and countertops and the installation of energy efficient lighting and dimmer switches.
Flooring was also a large part of the renovations made at the elementary building. This included the removal of old tile and wall fixtures that’d been in the building for more than 40-years. Considering the age of much of the material, the renovations also required an asbestos assessment for evaluation and its safe removal.
“As we all know, with material shortages and workforce challenges, we were forced to delay the start for the school year by 3-days,” said DeVore. “But we wanted to make assure the project was far enough along for students and teachers to safely use the buildings.”
With many slate chalk boards having been removed and wall fixtures replaced, the final step to renovation completion will be the installation of new white boards for the elementary classrooms. This will be done after the 2024 school year lets out and complete the renovations under the ESSER grant funding.
“It’s been a long haul with a lot of projects,” said April Hughes, Clarke Community Schools Business Manager. “But with ESSER grant deadlines set to expire in September of 2024, we wanted to make sure we were thorough in all of our updates.”
For more information about the EESER Federal Grants, you can go to: https://oese.ed.gov/offices/education-stabilization-fund/elementary-secondary-school-emergency-relief-fund/
Before the kickoff to the 2024-25 school year, there will be a public open house to reveal the full updates at the elementary and middle/high school buildings. You can check the Clarke School District Website for information as that date gets closer.