TORONTO — The Ontario government has announced it is providing $50 million in one-time funding to pay for improved ventilation, air quality and HVAC system effectiveness in schools as part of a larger package of school reopening support.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, announced the plan Aug. 13, saying the moves followed extensive consultations with medical experts across Ontario.
Boards will focus on improving air systems in older schools, portables and neighbourhoods with higher rates of community transmission, stated a release. School boards will “continue to maximize their use of existing school renewal funding, which totals over $1.4 billion this school year,” said the government.
Overall, the government is providing $500 million in supports to school boards intended to enable the boards to provide more physical distancing in classrooms and direct funding to use non-school community spaces. The province will allow access to school board reserves up to $496 million, an increase of $244 million, by allowing boards to access up to two per cent of their operating budget from their prior year accumulated surplus.
“We have demonstrated throughout this outbreak that we will deliver the strongest and safest plan in Canada for Ontario students, with a recognition that we will continuously strengthen it over time,” said Lecce. “This investment and access to reserves will enable more social distancing and improve air quality, and ultimately strengthen the layers of protection to keep students and staff safe.”
Ken Lancastle, COO of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada (MCAC), said the association had not been consulted by the government on the move. He said the MCAC is keen to learn more about how the program will be implemented.
“As a national association, we are hopeful that other jurisdictions are mindful of the initiative being taken in Ontario with respect to HVAC systems in schools,” said Dave Holek, president and chair of the MCAC, in a statement. “Modern and efficient HVAC systems are fundamental to the health and wellbeing of Canadians, and the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated this even further. We are supportive of Premier Ford’s efforts and look forward to working with all levels of government and health authorities to ensure buildings across the country are well suited to protect to the health of Canadians.”