Ottawa school boards will use newly announced COVID-19 grants to improve ventilation and install touch-less drinking fountains and doors.
The grants are part of $656.5 million in pandemic-related funding to improve health and safety, physical distancing and remote learning at Ontario schools. The federal government pays 80 per cent for the program, while the province picks up 20 per cent.
School boards applied for funding, and about 9,800 projects have been approved at nearly 3,900 schools in Ontario, according to a media release from Infrastructure Canada. Most of the money — $450 million — was awarded to upgrade HVAC systems and improve air quality.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board received $25.6 million. It plans to spend $14.5 million to upgrade HVAC systems; $7.15 million for air purification systems; $2 million to replace windows; $1.25 million for touch-less water bottle filling stations; and $627,000 for touch-less devices to hold open doors.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board received $13.9 million, most of which will be used to install ventilation units in 32 portable classrooms.
The Ottawa French public school board, CEPEO, received $3.05 million, which will be used to improve ventilation in schools and install touch-less technology in washrooms and drinking fountains.
The Ottawa French Catholic school board also received a grant, but has not yet responded to a request for details.
The grants represent a substantial infusion of cash compared to what has been provided since the pandemic began to improve air quality at schools in order to protect students and staff from COVID-19.
The virus spreads most among people who spend prolonged periods of time in confined, poorly ventilated indoor areas, which critics say describes many classrooms.
Last August the province provided $50 million to help Ontario school boards buy better filters, adjust HAVAC systems and buy portable air filters. Another $50 million to improve ventilation was provided by the federal government this past winter as part of its safe-return-to-class funding.
Some boards also used their reserve funds, including the Toronto District School Board, which bought portable air filter units for every classroom.