When science teacher Joe Greenberg accepted a position in a rural school district in Mississippi, his goal was to raise the profile of Clarksdale Municipal School as a leader in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and to bridge the educational gap between urban and rural areas. But for this area, the idea of enhanced STEM programming was a new concept. Around them, utilities were outdated, with HVAC, plumbing, and windows and roofs bypassing useful life cycles and diverting funding flows away from curriculum and operations. It is a common problem facing educators in America.
Transforming old facilities into comfortable learning environments
The Clarksdale Municipal School District, located in the Mississippi Delta, with approximately 2,230 students in nine schools, faced funding challenges in keeping its facilities functional and comfortable. The district issued a bond a few years ago, and the taxpayer approval needed to pass another bond to renovate the school was unlikely.
The area postponed HVAC systems and roof replacement for as long as possible, but delaying these projects came at a price. The county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing these old systems over the past few years, just to keep their schools open. In 2020, the region turned to Schneider Electric, an energy and sustainability expert, to help modernize its facilities and stabilize its operating budget, without seeking another bond referendum.
Under the guidance of Schneider Electric, the region has begun to develop a multi-stage strategic plan for Simplify operations, reduce costs, and implement improved educational programs.
Alternative Funding Flows Made the Impossible Possible
At the same time that the district and Schneider Electric evaluated capital projects at each facility, the federal government began disbursing much-needed funds. Primary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) in dollars. As an underserved area, Clarksdale Municipal School suddenly saw an influx of funds, paired with a long list of needs.
However, ESSER’s one-time formula money won’t answer every goal on the list. The Schneider Electric team sought to provide the region with additional funding sources including a broad range of grants, discounts and insurance financing, to strategically synthesize Clarksdale ONE’s coherent vision.
The full scope of the Clarksdale ONE project is being implemented in phases, allowing projects to be completed in order of urgency and importance. Across the first three phases, the region will strategically allocate more than $20 million in ESSER financing in a way that will generate approximately $2 million in energy and operating savings, which can be reinvested in the region.
Clarksdale ONE’s vision includes:
- District-wide telecommunication systems upgrades, which provided rapid savings and increased security
- Installing new roofs in six schools with strategic financing through insurance
- Implementation of new security plan and features, which include cameras, access control procedures, new external doors and emergency alerts across telecommunications systems
- delivery Capital Asset Planning System To accurately track and maintain infrastructure assets, while anticipating needed repairs and replacements
- Major mechanical upgrades to HVAC systems across the majority of the school district, ensuring better air quality
- Touchless water fixtures such as faucets, toilets and new water fountains with water bottle fillers
- Launching the AMPLIFY STEM program, with career exploration, hands-on learning and nurturing the robotics team
Partnership for the Future of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Professionals
Building upgrades and new funding inflows have opened up the opportunity to reinvest existing budgets into student curricula. With a new operating model and facilities made more ideal for learning, Mr. Greenberg has been able to bring more into the classroom.
Through their cooperation, a A new education opportunity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) became a reality. With financial support and encouragement from Schneider Electric experts, Mr. Greenberg formed one of the first robotics team in Mississippi. In addition, current science classes have been given a boost by Schneider Electric’s outdoor units, from Earth Day solar car racing to guest lectures on alternative energy to mentoring opportunities.
Mr. Greenberg attributes the robotics team’s successful launch to the initial investment in equipment and believes other regions have the potential to achieve the same success if they can cross the first funding barrier. His robotics team went on to compete in a championship for the first time in 2021, where two students ranked first in the world in virtual robotics. This feat helped highlight what Mr. Greenberg feels is the gap that exists for his students – the challenge and ambition to master advanced programming and design skills that were not an option before.
Clarksdale ONE shows what’s possible
By utilizing alternative funding streams and the Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC), the district will be able to invest its one-time ESSER catalytic funding into a guaranteed revenue stream and a more conducive learning environment to enhance student success.
Now is the time to make these infrastructure-wide upgrades. ESSER assignment deadlines are approaching and construction projects can take long lead times. Fortunately, the Department of Education just announced that schools may apply for an extension to ESSER III spending for an additional 18 months if they have projects, such as capital improvements, that require additional time. Many schools are taking this opportunity to get rid of the delayed maintenance period with large investments in infrastructure.
Learn how to place areas of all sizes Remaining stimulus dollars To operate and create lasting impacts by investing in infrastructure improvements.
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