More than ever, Americans are demanding clean air in public buildings, especially schools. Mitigating and eliminating virus spread, wildfire smoke and other air pollutants while reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential, as data overwhelmingly demonstrates retrofits are critical – not only for overall public health, but for improved student performance in schools as well.
In Oregon, SMART Local 16 and the SMART Northwest Regional Council (NWRC) are leading the way in retrofitting these public buildings, putting an emphasis on public schools in need.
“Thanks to President Biden’s policies embedded in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the NWRC is able to offer assistance to K-12 school districts that have the greatest need,” said Lance Deyette, president of the SMART Northwest Regional Council.
School buildings are plagued by poor ventilation. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act include funding to improve energy efficiency, indoor air quality and other necessary improvements in school buildings through the Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools grant program.
To help school districts in their region access these federal resources, the SMART Northwest Council developed a “SMART Facilities” pilot program to assist school districts in the application process. To receive funding, school districts must submit a Community Benefits Plan that engages labor unions – a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), for example. Through the program, the SMART Northwest Council will help school districts with the greatest need perform a school building assessment (a requirement of the grant application) and help write the grant application.
Since the start of the program, more than 30 school districts in Washington and Oregon have signed Community Benefits Agreements with the SMART Northwest Council and are working to prepare applications for the grant program. Unfortunately, it is very competitive and there isn’t enough funding for all the Northwestern schools that need improvements.
To meet the needs of schools in their region, the Northwest Regional Council applied for Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Communities Investment Accelerator Program through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which proposed $1 billion to fund needed retrofit, energy efficiency and indoor air quality projects of school districts in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. It would create union jobs in underserved communities, improve the health and safety of schools and lower building energy costs.
The Northwest Regional Council is committed to helping schools that have signed a Community Benefits Agreement apply for federal funding to improve their school buildings, and the council is hopeful that EPA will fund its project proposal. Additionally, the Northwest Regional Council will continue to partner with stakeholders to bring federal resources to the region.
“Guaranteeing that public money is carefully invested in good jobs is the best example of good common-sense economics,” said SMART Local 16 Special Projects Counsel Scott Strickland.