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Fremont school district uses ESSER funds to fix a sick building

Fremont school district uses ESSER funds to fix a sick building

View of Fremont school from a drone

View of Fremont school that received an upgrade in its HVAC system with ESSER funds.

The Fremont School District Re-2 had a sick building. A transfusion of ESSER funds cured it.

Working to keep the schools open during the pandemic, it became increasingly clear that the district’s oldest school building, Fremont Elementary, built in 1967, was not the healthiest place.

“It had the highest absentee rates with staff and students,” Superintendent Dr. Brenda Krage recalled. “We also knew that historically, air quality was not great in this building. But what COVID-19 (showed) us was that there was no quality air-filtration system. There was no intake and outtake system to keep the environment healthy.”

With ESSER funds available to provide cleaner air, Krage told the school board, “We have an opportunity to fix a historic issue.

Fremont received approximately $1.6 million that could be used to upgrade Fremont Elementary but that was not enough for the whole project. The entire $7 million project to retrofit the entire building with a new HVAC system was paid for with $3.8 million from CDE’s BEST program, $1.9 million from the general fund and $1.6 from ESSER funding. 

The project wasn’t fast or easy. Construction began in the summer of 2022 with asbestos removal. That meant no staff were allowed in the building. Hallways were taped off. The ceiling tiles came down and old wiring was addressed. When classes began for the 2022-23 year, teachers were in the classrooms during the day and construction workers were in at night and on weekends and holidays.

Krage said she did not have “one single complaint about disruption to their classroom” despite teachers wanting to come in over Christmas and other breaks to get caught up on work. They couldn’t because the rooms were torn apart. “They just were like ‘Okay. We can do this. This is going to be a great benefit on the other side of this.’ And they were just real troopers.”

Krage has been with the district for six years. Before the new HVAC system was installed,  during hot months she took popsicles at the end of the week to all the kids at Fremont Elementary. “Because it was so hot. They just endured the heat. Their little faces were so red, and they were just exhausted. That doesn't happen anymore.”

Instead, at the beginning of the 2023 school year in August, some of the children were wearing sweaters.

 “It was such an undertaking that it just wasn't going to be dealt with until we had this opportunity with these kinds of funds. It's the rainbow that came out of a horrible situation.”