Hamilton school boards are set to receive a combined $27.8 million for infrastructure upgrades — improving air quality, outdoor spaces and internet access, among others — to protect against COVID-19.
The public board, which serves approximately 50,000 students, will receive approximately $17.2 million. The Catholic board, which has a student population of about 29,000, will receive approximately $10.6 million.
The announcement comes days before students currently on April break move to remote learning indefinitely amid a surge in cases of the virus. Some special education students — and the staff who support them — will continue in-person classes.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says the funding will be used to install bottle-filling stations at 86 schools, rooftop or classroom ventilators at 31 schools, touchless doors at 86 schools and infrared water faucets at 36 schools.
At the Catholic board, the majority of the funding — approximately $5.7 million — will be used to improve ventilation in schools, including HVAC rooftop unit replacement and portable ventilators for classrooms.
Other upgrades include classroom partitions, automatic doors, “hydration stations” to replace drinking fountains and the creation of natural playgrounds for full-day kindergarten at child-care programs.
About $1.3 million will be used for new Wi-Fi access points for increased internet access.
“The funding announced today will be of tremendous assistance to Catholic school boards as they continue to place priority on the health and safety and well-being of their students and staff,” Pat Daly, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA), said in an April 14 release.
Daly, who is also chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, told The Spectator they plan to proceed with upgrades “as soon as possible.”
Funding allocated to boards in February was used for air filters, repairs to ventilation and the replacement of exhaust fans and upgrades to outdoor spaces, among other improvements.
The Ministry of Education says boards will begin to work on these projects “immediately,” and are expected to complete them by the end of December.
Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator