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Schools struggling to pay for upgraded ventilation systems

August 29, 2021 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Schools around the state looking to upgrade aging ventilation systems to improve air quality and help fight the airborne spread of COVID-19 may find themselves short on funds, even with federal pandemic aid.

The Connecticut Mirror reports a state policy restricts aid for heating, air conditioning and air quality control projects. The policy could be reviewed again by legislators, but likely not before the 2022 General Assembly session in February.

“There are some districts that haven’t touched their schools in 40 years,” said Kostantinos Diamantis, the state’s budget director who also has overseen the state’s school construction program for the past six years. “The local level needs to belly up to the bar. The cities have an obligation to maintain those buildings.”

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Connecticut reimburses communities for between 10% and 71% of new construction and large renovation projects designed to last 20 years or longer, the Mirror reported. But the cost of smaller projects such as replacing or upgrading a heating and ventilation system must be absorbed by the town.

For the town of Coventry, which wants to replace ventilators in its middle and high schools and make roof repairs, that would mean a bill of more than $2 million even after unused federal pandemic aid is applied.

“You’re dis-incentivizing communities from keeping their buildings up and running,” said Joe DeLong, head of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “What we need to do is to develop a standard for towns to work with the state and to get the state involved to work with these air quality projects.”

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This story has been corrected to change attribution from the Hartford Courant to the Connecticut Mirror.