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Flagstaff Unified School District approves HVAC update

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FUSD Board of Directors Superintendent Michael Penca addresses the public in attendance at the board's meeting Tuesday evening. The board unanimously voted to mandate masks in Flagstaff's public schools through Sept. 29.

In a meeting earlier this week, FUSD approved a proposal for an update to HVAC systems in four district schools. This is funded as part of the district’s ESSER III allocation of pandemic relief funds.

The proposal is to update the HVAC systems and install air conditioning in Knoles, DeMiguel and Cromer Elementaries as well as at Mount Elden Middle School by the start of the 2022/23 school year.

"Essentially our proposal is to...provide air conditioning in those areas of the campus that don't have that," said Chuck Hink of Pueblo Mechanical and Controls, who presented the proposal. "There are areas of the campuses that have it, but the vast majority of the classroom spaces...do not have any upgraded systems since the time that the building was essentially built. These proposals will go through and upgrade the facilities with air conditioning as well as all of the required indoor air qualities that are being pressed upon us today during this pandemic."

These four schools were prioritized based on an analysis of all district buildings, with the plan being to create a longer-term plan to update the rest at a later point.

Hink said the primary criteria used in selecting which of these buildings would be first is the age of the facility and of the equipment currently in use, as well as how each campus is currently being used and planned for. He said Summit High School, Sinagua Middle School and Sechrist Elementary were the most likely candidates for the next stage.

“Every school needs a little TLC,” he said, “but to go about it in an organized fashion, [the above schools] would be the next set of schools we'd be looking at for an upgrade." 

He said this would depend on the district's prioritization and that he had presented a potential ten-year plan to Penca. 

The school recently submitted its plans for the 13.7 million dollar ESSER III allocation it received as part of the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021. The version presented to the board on Aug. 24 put a little less than 70% ($9,250,000) of the funding toward facility improvements and equipment.

“We're not sure at this point how long COVID will be with us or what we’ll be dealing with in the future so it seems like a prudent use of ESSER funds," said board member Carol Haden. She concluded by recommending the board find a way to continue the longer-term project. 

As of the Sept. 14 meeting, the proposal had not yet been approved by the state, though FUSD superintendent Michael Penca said he expected approval would not be a problem.

The proposal Hink presented to the board lists the projected total cost as $8,619,053.98 and suggests a $500,000 contingency. In response to a question from the board, Hink said they estimated the operating costs for the district going forward would increase around 20% a year as a result.

Pueblo has worked with the district on a number of projects since 2001, including installation of ionizers in response to COVID-19.

The hope is to eventually expand the project to include all schools in the district.

"As we have renovated or built new schools, we have to continue with every opportunity we have to include air conditioning in our facilities," Penca said. "...This isn't just 'well, we got that one time money and these four schools just won the lottery and everybody else left out.' It's part of our strategic plan, we need to continue to discuss on how we continue to move the needle and bring these systems up to standard in all of our schools."

FUSD’s board unanimously approved the proposal and are waiting for approval of their ESSER application.

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