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The NYS Clean-Green Schools Initiative Creates Questions and Opportunities for K12 Schools

By Michael Ginalski

At Welliver, we are working with a number of school districts, both large and small across the Southern Tier, on the planning and implementation of various projects including Energy Performance Contracts (EPC) that will help to move schools to a more healthy, cost effective environment. Districts are working diligently to create healthier, cleaner, and ‘greener’ environments for students, faculty, and employees while utilizing the latest technologies to decrease costs and maximize savings.

Currently, Welliver is working in several districts to address this. In the Elmira Heights Central School District, we are assisting with the installation of LED lighting and controls along with climate control which will save that district $50,456 annually. At Corning-Painted Post, the district is midway through an $88M project in which $8M of state-of-the-art controls, mechanical system replacements, energy metering reporting applications, climate control, and lighting will begin to transform CPP into a much more energy efficient school district.

At the forefront of helping school districts become “greener”, New York State has taken a dramatic step through the creation of the Clean-Green initiative. This will advance clean energy and energy solutions to improve indoor air quality and reduce emissions for more than 600 under resourced public schools across the state. Districts can apply for this funding immediately and are encouraged to do so but there is more to come in the next fiscal year which will affect every district in the state. As a Construction Manager, Welliver is working with architects and vendors across the state in preparation for this influx of funds. In the past two years we have become very proficient in assisting districts who are utilizing outside funding sources because many districts are applying multiple federal stimulus funds designed for this purpose. For instance, we have worked closely with the Elmira City School District in expanding their capital project to begin to utilize these funds for construction. This new funding will provide the same incentive to districts to address the physical climate of their buildings.

In November 2022, New York State voters will be asked to vote on the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. If approved, the Bond Act funding will allow the program to serve more than 1,000 under resourced public schools and benefit nearly one million students, driving significant infrastructure upgrades such as geothermal heating and cooling, solar, green roofs, and indoor air quality and ventilation. New York State has over 4,000 public K-12 schools and 2,500 of these schools are located in a disadvantaged community or high needs area. Schools and districts interested in the program should visit the NYSERDA website at www.nyserda.ny.gov.

This funding creates wonderful opportunities for districts, all of whom want to create a healthier environment for students and communities they serve. However, Superintendents and School Boards that we are working with are abuzz with the mandate which came out of the new state budget requiring that all new school bus purchases be zero emissions by 2027 and all school buses on the road be zero emission by 2035. While the state is also providing funding for this ambitious initiative and allowing districts to lease or finance zero emission buses for 12 years, the $500M provided by the Bond Act is a drop in the proverbial bucket needed to provide all districts the money to not only purchase the vehicles but the infrastructure to support charging and maintaining a 100% electric fleet.

So many questions remain, as this technology is relatively new. For instance, this could be a very heavy lift for our rural school districts. Most rural districts cover a broad area with challenging terrain and many questions remain as to how this will work in districts which cover many square miles. How many miles will a “charge” last? What does this mean for sports trips? How will these vehicles perform on hills? How can we add charging stations on postage stamp size transportation centers? The list of questions is far and long. The electrical infrastructure alone needed to support this initiative will dramatically affect districts and their transportation centers. At Welliver, we are working behind the scenes gathering the information to work with our clients in preparation for this ambitious initiative. This is just the latest thing keeping Superintendents awake at night, mainly because of those unanswered questions and future facilities projects in the pre-referendum stage currently needing to address the electric busing initiative in some manner. We are doing our part to be ahead of the curve at Welliver providing our clients the guidance necessary to begin laying the groundwork to meet this mandate.

Mike joined Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].