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Governor Proposes $250 million for School HVAC Systems

School buses parked outside Hopewell High School, on July 26, 2021
Jahd Khalil
Radio IQ

Governor Ralph Northam proposed $250 million of Virginia’s American Rescue Plan Funds be used for improving HVAC systems, at Hopewell High School on Monday.

School districts could apply for a state match of funds to improve ventilation systems, which have long been under scrutiny in Virginia but became of special importance during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Local school divisions will need to apply for at least $200,000 and the state will match that under the plan. The money would come from $4.3 billion in ARPA funds that the General Assembly will start divvying up next week in a special session.

“It’s not just about content learning, but looking at the social-emotional supports for students, looking at their basic needs,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “COVID has only intensified the situation and really brought to the surface unaddressed needs of students.”

School infrastructure poses a major cost for school divisions. In a press release on the announcement, the governor’s office said HVAC projects were the most frequently requested project by schools: 463 HVAC projects amounting to $623 million.

Richmond Public Schools is already spending over $12 million on school improvements, a spokesperson said in an email.

“RPS is excited to hear about the Governor’s proposed investments in school HVAC systems. Thanks to federal stimulus funding, RPS has already been making significant upgrades in our schools,” wrote Matthew Stanley. “We are eager to learn more about how much funding would be allocated to RPS in the Governor’s proposal and will absolutely match any funds necessary to maximize such allocations and continue to implement our strategies.”

Norfolk’s schools have a $171 million capital investment plan, according to the Virginia Pilot, but American Rescue Plan funds cannot be used to build new schools. Northam implied money for that was coming in his next budget.

“There are schools throughout Virginia that not only need to be modernized but we need to build new schools and I have an outgoing budget,” said Northam.” “I'm an advocate along with a lot of these other people around me for education, so we'll be coming up with a plan this fall of how we build new schools in Virginia.”

Schools were one priority of Northam and Democratic lawmakers. Announcements on money for public health and the Virginia Employment Commission are likely coming this week too.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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