Connecticut Education, City Groups Say Restriction Prevents Cities From Updating School HVAC Systems – Hartford Courant
As Connecticut public schools face the costly task of upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, education and municipal stakeholders are calling on the state to reconsider guidelines that prevent districts use federal funds to cover local contributions needed to participate in the state matching grant for CVC. program.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education released a joint statement on Tuesday advocating the repeal of a restriction that bars municipalities from using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to match the Connecticut Public Grants Program for HVAC and Indoor Air Quality in Schools.
CAPSS executive director Fran Rabinowitz said she already sees this rule impacting district decision-making, especially in municipalities that don’t want to allocate council tax money to HVAC renovations. .
“My main concern is that I hear from several of my superintendents that they have projects they would like to do and that the municipality would be willing to move forward if they could use their ARPA funding,” Rabinowitz said. .
State law regarding school construction grant processes prohibits the use of federal funds as local contribution for matching grants. The CCM, CAPSS, and CABE are asking Governor Ned Lamont and the Department of Administrative Services to reconsider applying the law to the HVAC grant program, arguing that lawmakers did not intend the program to have the same requirements that the construction of the school.
Under current arrangements, districts can use ARPA to reduce the total cost of the project, but municipalities and the state must share the difference.
Governor Lamont announced the Connecticut Public Schools HVAC/Indoor Air Quality Grant Program in September after the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the need to address overdue HVAC improvements. The administration has pledged $150 million in public school grants with an application deadline of Dec. 1, 2022.
The CCM, CAPSS, and CABE are also calling on the state legislature and DAS to extend the deadline to allow more time for municipalities to plan their projects.
In response to their inquiries, DAS Commissioner Michelle Gilman did not hint at a policy change.
“DAS has worked hard to develop and administer a curriculum established by the state legislature in partnership with state agencies and local schools,” Gilman said. “The program was developed within the parameters established in state law for existing reimbursement school building grants and in a way to leverage the limited funding provided. DAS is excited to offer school districts state dollars for these types of standalone projects for the first time and looks forward to working with all stakeholders to improve indoor air quality in our schools.
Rabinowitz said she was “delighted” when Lamont announced the grant award, but she is disappointed with the funding restrictions.
“I don’t think there should be [ARPA] restrictions in place for municipalities. I would just like to see us move forward and not have those kinds of challenges,” Rabinowitz said. “We have other challenges when we do this, like being able to find contractors, being able to get all the supplies, etc. But that’s a challenge I don’t think we need.”
Rabinowitz said a cost estimate for installing air conditioning in a small elementary school was $1 million. She fears that for communities that lack local capital, the ARPA restriction will prevent the district from applying for the state HVAC grant.
“These projects are very, very expensive,” Rabinowitz said. “If a municipality is not allowed to use matching funds, then it is very difficult for a school district to apply for those funds.”
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CCM Executive Director and CEO Joe DeLong echoed his concern, saying that when discussions about a HVAC grant program began, municipalities did not expect an ARPA restriction for HVAC funds. counterpart.
“If you don’t have enough grant applications to use up all the funds, it might be seen as the need isn’t as great as people thought,” DeLong said. “That is certainly not the case. We know there is a huge need. It’s just the deadlines, with the restrictions that people weren’t expecting, are going to make it difficult for some communities to meet those deadlines and get the grant applications through.
DeLong said he doesn’t want the burden of costly HVAC system upgrades shifted to taxpayers when federal ARPA funds become available.
“It’s disappointing that there’s a limitation on their use that will inevitably force at least some of these projects to be subject to property tax when it’s not necessary,” DeLong said, “We have so many increased inflation, so many challenges that people have locally, day to day, to drive some of this [HVAC] cost in higher property taxes, we just don’t think that’s the best way to do it.
DeLong said he was optimistic about continued dialogue with DAS Commissioner Gilman as the HVAC grant program moves forward.
“[This program] is a first step towards something that must continue to move forward. But getting off on the right foot is important. … I don’t want this preoccupation that we have in trying to solve this problem to reflect on the relationship that we have with the [DAS] curator right now. She was very responsive, very transparent,” DeLong said. “This one small restriction… it is significant, it needs to be changed. But I’m also grateful for the opportunity to have the kinds of dialogue that we have with the commissioner and the partnership that we have to get things done.
Alison Cross can be reached at [email protected]