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Ridgefield schools earn nearly $200,000 to improve air quality

RIDGEFIELD – The local school district will receive tens of thousands of dollars from the state’s HVAC Indoor Air Quality grant program for public schools, officials announced Monday.

As a result of the grant, which totals $191,454, eight schools in Ridgefield will receive funding for a variety of projects, including the installation of fans, air conditioners, roof exhaust fans and other work related to air quality, the statement said.

“We’re very pleased with that,” said state Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, outside the Ridgefield Public Schools headquarters Monday morning. “This is a great start for the state of Connecticut and we are very pleased that we were able to bring some money here to Ridgefield.”

Kushner was joined by state Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo, D-Ridgefield, Superintendent Susie Da Silva and First Selectman Rudy Marconi, along with several high school interns.

Between two rounds of the program, the state has spent $178 million on HVAC projects across the state. That’s about three-quarters of the available $225 million. Ridgefield had earned $14,000 as part of the first round.

A third round of grants is expected to be awarded next year, Kushner said.

As for the high school interns, Berger-Girvalo said the younger generation is involved and “the least we can do is provide a healthy environment for them in their classrooms and for their teachers.”

The state grants will cover 23.57 percent of the total $812,278 cost of the projects. After repaying the grant, Ridgefield will pay $620,824, according to officials.

Da Silva said the district “appreciates the investment the state has made” to support what infrastructure “should be” in the schools.

Marconi said not only are students very important to the Ridgefield community, “but the teachers and staff who work in all of these buildings need to have the air quality to function properly.”

Not all districts received subsidies in the first round

Despite commitments from Governor Ned Lamont in September 2022 to spend $150 million on HVAC upgrades in schools, the state was criticized for approving only $56 million for projects in the first round of funding.

Lower-income districts received less funding and those applications were denied at a much higher rate than affluent communities, even though the grant program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit poorer districts most acutely, a Hearst study found Connecticut Media. .

State officials claimed the rejected applications were “incomplete,” but school officials disputed that claim or said their applications were rejected for trivial reasons, such as one document missing a signature on hundreds of pages.

Although Danbury High School did not previously receive the $1.1 million in state aid they requested, Kushner said Monday that the school received a grant in the second round of funding.

“There was a project they were working on with air purifiers that cost $28,000 and were reimbursed for about $18,000,” she said. “I have spoken to the superintendent there and plan to sit down with (school officials) this summer to work on some of the larger projects.”

She added that the state has “worked very hard to improve the process because it was very tough the first year.”

Kushner added that in the second round of grants for applications that were incomplete, the state created an opportunity for state officials to meet with local officials to answer questions.

She turned to Da Silva and said, “Maybe you haven’t had that experience because you guys are very, very sharp in the way you do your work. “But there were other districts… that needed more hands-on help that wasn’t built into the first round.”

She added that there were workshops for districts that needed more information before starting the process.

According to John McKay of the state Department of Administrative Services, the state has offered all applicants with incomplete applications the opportunity to submit additional documentation during the review process.

“Ultimately, 17 applications were unable to progress due to missing requirements such as a local share of funding, cost estimates or other requirements,” he said.