South Carolina digs into Title I toolbox for summer campus repairs

Districts are planning ventilation and HVAC upgrades with ESSER funds, as well as other maintenance projects, over a shortened summer break.

Maintenance activity on school campuses is expected to ramp up this summer as facilities managers begin eyeing the ARP ESSER funding for ventilation upgrades, an improvement specifically addressed by language in the authorization.

In Williamsburg County, S.C., the school district has adopted a shortened summer schedule by two weeks, according to Michael Barrineau, executive director of operations and facilities. Spring is bringing on a rush of intense bougainvillea in Williamsburg County, where the landscape features Spanish moss-laden trees. He anticipates his scenic campuses will see an abundance of contractor pickups, vans, and other vehicles.

“We’ll be trying to do our major projects this summer, but we also have summer programs because we’re a Title I school district,” Barrineau said.

The facilities manager said his summer maintenance schedule for the entire district is ranging from $4 million to $5 million in dedicated projects. He emphasized these are already preapproved Title I projects. The newer funding promised by Washington is offering some confusion to maintenance planning, he noted.

“We have some needs for replacement and facilities that are aged. And we will definitely utilize these funds for the safety of our students,” Barrineau said. “But we’re coming into a gray area.”

Barrineau said his concern is in the language guidelines for heating and air conditioning installations. “Can we use the [ESSER] funds to change out existing units?” he asked rhetorically. “Or can we use the new units just for the addition of UV lighting?”

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As part of his current repair program on the district’s ten Title I schools, Barrineau said, “We’re in the process of purchasing air purification systems with ESSER funds.” He emphasized that the purchased units already have UV lighting that is used for sanitizing air particles. “We’d like to do these upgrades, but we need to do our due diligence and follow the guidelines first,” he concluded.

Top-to-bottom upgrades

Meanwhile, in neighboring Orangeburg County, S.C., the school district’s director of maintenance and facilities, David Hess, said his 40-person crews expect to spend the summer break on what he termed “a top-to-bottom building envelope.”

“We never stop working,” he said. Hess explained he has organized his staff into three teams in order to service a district that is just under two hours across in drive time. He emphasized summer campus maintenance covers specific accomplishments, such as cleaning floors, walls, spraying HVAC systems, and changing air circulating filters.

Some school campuses in the northern part of the state benefit from being close to Bradford pear orchards with spring blossoms of white pinwheels. Lancaster County is such a place, where the local school district is laying plans for summer maintenance amid a shortened summer season.

“This summer we plan on using current Title I funding to upgrade air conditioning in our schools,” said Lancaster County School District’s public information specialist, Michelle Craig, who is also looking at a shortened summer calendar. As with other counties in the state, Lancaster’s school session extends into the summer by two weeks beyond normal, creating an abbreviated summer session.

She noted that her district has 24 campuses — nine of which are Title I schools — all of which are home to a student body of 14,000. She said she views the shortened summer with a sense of urgency. “It’ll be six weeks before people start coming back into the buildings.”

Craig would only say that discussion of post-summer maintenance plans has been a topic among school officials, she said, noting that the district isn’t ready to make any announcements regarding future maintenance-budget planning.

Roland Little covers Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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