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CT advances steps to improve indoor air quality in schools

FILE, 2022: An air purifier in Bridgeport's Beardsley School which has had ongoing air quality problems. The state used to have concrete data on the condition of the state’s 1,500 public schools. Parents, educators, and legislators, could look up the information online. The last public accounting of the 118 year old Beardsley School was in 2013. It showed air quality problems in 6 of the 17 areas measured. And no repairs or improvements had been scheduled.
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
FILE, 2022: An air purifier in Bridgeport's Beardsley School which has had ongoing air quality problems. The state used to have concrete data on the condition of the state’s 1,500 public schools. Parents, educators, and legislators, could look up the information online. The last public accounting of the 118 year old Beardsley School was in 2013. It showed air quality problems in 6 of the 17 areas measured. And no repairs or improvements had been scheduled.

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Numerous Connecticut public schools will receive millions in state funding to upgrade their heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. It’s part of larger state efforts to improve school air quality.

Poor air quality in school buildings is among the country’s top environmental health risks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is the second round of funding for the HVAC Indoor Air Quality Grants Program for Public Schools earmarked in the state’s 2022 budget adjustment. Across the state, $122 million will go to schools who applied for the program last year, the Department of Administrative Services announced Monday.

“Currently, over 935 schools in Connecticut have HVAC systems that are broken, failing, or in need of replacement,” said Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association. “Sick buildings threaten our health and cost our communities precious resources to mitigate.”

Under the grant, Connecticut municipalities must provide matching funds to support the projects. According to the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), 54% of the funding is going to districts below the state’s median measure of wealth.

Dias said local boards of education hold responsibility to maintain their schools, and the funds are a good step forward, but not a “silver bullet solution” to air quality issues in Connecticut’s schools.

“With old facilities and steep price tags, this has been a difficult challenge to tackle but thanks to the historic investment from Gov. [Ned] Lamont, we have empowered hundreds of schools to make significant HVAC improvements enabling healthier schools and better learning environments," said state Rep. Jennifer Leeper, co-chair of the Indoor Air Quality Task Force.

State Sen. Julie Kushner, who also co-chairs the group, said the added funds will “make a real difference” for schools, but that the state’s work on this issue isn’t done. This year, the General Assembly approved legislation that includes resources to improve indoor school air quality.

The proposal had unanimous committee approval and was eventually incorporated into the larger Senate bill concerning school resources.

The bill heading to the governor’s desk extends the working group to 2031 to make recommendations surrounding performance of A/C, heating, and ventilation. The measure also requires HVAC system inspections in at least one-fifth of school districts’ buildings every year.

“Our goal is to ensure every student in Connecticut has the opportunity to learn in ideal classroom conditions,” Kushner said.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.
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