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Pandemic Plan: How K-12 Schools Are Dealing with Deferred Maintenance


By Dan Hounsell Maintenance & Operations
kids wearing masks in school

Is COVID-19 the new best friend of deferred maintenance in the nation’s schools? As mind-bending as that concept might seem, consider this: The attention of parents, students and school administrators has never been focused as intently on the less-than-ideal condition of many K-12 schools as it is right now.

Nationally, parents are scrutinizing the housekeeping and sanitizing practices in local schools. In New York City, ventilation concerns delayed the opening of some schools. Even managers in healthcare facilities are closely watching the measures schools are taking to keep students and teachers safe.

For maintenance and engineering managers who have battled deferred maintenance in their schools for decades, the attention might be a blessing in disguise. Schools are scrambling to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for improving ventilation, seen as crucial to minimizing the spread of COVID-19 indoors, according to Chalkbeat, adding that the crisis is prompting some taxpayers to open their wallets.

Recognition of the role ventilation can play in COVID transmission has prompted a flurry of school building upgrades. Denver Public Schools has invested nearly $5 million to improve HVAC units and install new air filters. Hillsborough County schools in Florida are upgrading their air filters. Vermont offered federal relief dollars to schools interested in upgrading their HVAC systems and improving air quality. Within weeks, most schools had signed up.

Despite short-term success stories, the parties involved know that effectively addressing deferred maintenance in the long term will not be easy.

“There’s concern that facilities funding will compete with very real needs on the education side,” says Mary Filardo, founder of 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for federal funding for school facilities. “I think there is some more attention to school facilities going forward, but it is a tough road.” 

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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