As the LNU Lightning Complex Fire blazed to the south and the August Complex Fire to the north, Konocti Unified School District’s board of trustees approved an $8.5 million infrastructure renewal program that addresses power shutoffs, blackouts, indoor air quality and rising utility costs.
“We teach our students the power of adapting to our ever-changing world,” said Konocti USD Superintendent Becky Salato, Ph.D. “So when the time came for us to live it, we didn’t back down.”
Over the next year, 10 sites, including eight schools, will be under construction. The program will relieve the district’s general fund, which had already been subject to escalating budget cuts and rising utility costs when the pandemic struck. “Protecting everyone and improving indoor air quality as school resumes is a guiding force for us,” Salato continued. “They’re the central topics of our conversations when we talk about how we’re moving our schools forward. Health and safety is as much a non-negotiable as high-quality education.”
Many of Konocti’s classrooms and multipurpose rooms will be equipped with high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units, featuring MERV 13 filters. These filters capture tiny bacteria, virus, dust and smoke particles while the entire HVAC system delivers fresh outdoor air to classrooms. The district will also use more than two dozen portable HEPA air filters for classrooms most impacted by the smoke.
Smart building controls as well as LED lighting on campuses for enhanced security, in classrooms and at Lower Lake High School’s football field are also on the docket. Backup power generators will further separate dependence on its utility provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), and help Konocti schools operate under potential power shutoff conditions, such as extreme dryness and high winds and temperatures. Combined with renewable energy from new solar panels and a protective netting for the district’s existing solar arrays, the program pays for itself over time. About $19 Million will be shaved off Konocti USD’s budget over the next 30 years.
“This year has shown us that there’s no better time to be proactive than the present,” commented Sue Burton, president of the Konocti USD Board of Trustees. “Environmental changes, more budget cuts and even more terrible fires are threats to our region. We need technology and systems that empower us to adjust for them.”
The district’s partner, Climatec, is a Bosch-owned turnkey infrastructure renewal and sustainability solution provider. Climatec and district staff have been collaborating since March 2020. After working together to define district priorities and goals, the pair secured funding through private and utility programs.
Burton continued, “With so many lessons learned, we’re slowly chipping away at our resilience. When the inevitable happens, we will be better prepared.”