How ESSER Funds Can Help with HVAC Upgrades

By Kimberly Raduenz

The importance of HVAC units in schools was brought to the forefront when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the early parts of 2020. While vaccines became one option for combating the virus, the need for increased ventilation and filtration became an area of focus for many school districts. The federal government also took notice as they issued approximately $190 billion in COVID relief funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). These funds can be used for capital expenditures such as minor remodeling, renovation, construction and, most importantly, HVAC.

While these funds are widely available to K–12 schools throughout the United States, only a small percentage of the funds have been utilized. According to McKinsey & Company, districts have yet to spend the bulk of the monies as we reach the halfway point of the federal stimulus window. In the same report, it states that schools had spent only $45 billion of the total available funds by the end of the 2021–22 school year. At that rate, McKinsey & Company projects that nearly $20 billion of the ESSER funds may not be obligated before the deadline ends.

According to a report by the Center for Green Schools, school districts planning to utilize ESSER III funding have prioritized a significant amount to support indoor air quality for their students and staff. “Of all the funding categories tracked by Burbio, air filtration/HVAC was the second-highest category for district planned spending at $5.5 billion, just behind staffing/teachers/academic interventionists/guidance counselors,” the report states. Of the districts interviewed in the report, they highlighted the importance of having substantial federal dollars to invest in costly HVAC infrastructure projects that would otherwise be delayed. On average, schools that participated in the report plan to spend approximately $260,000.

With a large pocket of funds still available for K–12 schools to utilize, it is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of and secure HVAC projects that can help with indoor air quality moving forward. While the COVID pandemic continues to wage on, there are also other particulates that can negatively impact K–12 schools such as flu and cold viruses, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other allergens. Enhancing IAQ will help create safe, clean air for students and faculty alike.

Upgrading HVAC Units

Addressing the quality and cleanliness of the air within K–12 schools is a vital part of a child’s experience at school. The White House took notice of the importance of IAQ when they issued the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, which is “a call to action for organizational leaders and building owners and operators to assess their indoor air quality and make ventilation, air filtration, and air cleaning improvements to help keep building occupants safe.”

Schools with older HVAC units may not be getting the efficiency and performance that they expect. If the units haven’t been properly maintained, IAQ could ultimately suffer. With the amount of funds available for K–12 schools, facilities may take this time to replace their existing units with newer models that offer a higher return on investment. It is paramount that HVAC units have the capability to offer ventilation, dehumidification, and proper filtration solutions.

If purchasing a new unit isn’t on the table, upgrading existing units is an excellent way to utilize ESSER funding. Upgrading filters is one way to improve IAQ. During the early stages of the pandemic, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommended the use of MERV 13 filters for most applications if the units were compatible. Upgrading school HVAC filters will help minimize the number of particulates in the air and better equip schools against allergens and viruses. UV lights and needlepoint bipolar ionization are also other options for filtration upgrades.

When thinking about upgrades, it is also necessary to consider that other changes that are required. Upgrading the motors in older equipment is a must. These units are not sized to handle the added static when making additions. In many cases, facility managers don’t accommodate for the added static pressure and less airflow when upgrading items like filters. When considering upgrades for your HVAC unit, make sure you upgrade all the necessary parts to make the upgrades a success.

Improve IAQ through ESSER Funding

The federal government gave K–12 schools a great opportunity to address HVAC needs. With seasonal allergies and flu viruses still causing schools to be called off, it is important for facilities to take the proper steps to equip schools against these concerns. With a significant amount of ESSER funds still available, schools have the capability to upgrade their systems to better protect their students. It is important that schools act now. The period of availability for ESSER II funding ends Sept. 30, 2023, while the period for ESSER III funds ends Sept. 30, 2024. Please click here for more information on ESSER Funding.

Kimberly Raduenz is the manager of strategic marketing of IAQ for Modine Manufacturing Company. At Modine, we are engineering a cleaner, healthier world. Building on more than 100 years of excellence in thermal management, we provide trusted systems and solutions that improve air quality and conserve natural resources. More than 11,000 employees are at work in every corner of the globe, delivering the solutions our customers need, where they need them. Our Climate Solutions and Performance Technologies segments support our purpose by improving air quality, reducing energy and water consumption, lowering harmful emissions and enabling cleaner running vehicles and environmentally-friendly refrigerants. Modine is a global company headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin (USA), with operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.