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Province cancels fund for school retrofits, leaving boards searching for cash

Province chops $100-million Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund
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2018-07-10 SCDSB office RB
The Simcoe County District School Board offices in Midhurst. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

The public and Catholic school boards have had a good chunk of their provincial funding to retrofit local schools pulled out from underneath them.

Ontario’s new Tory government has cancelled the $100-million Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) fund earmarked for school repairs this year, a cut that comes as a result of Doug Ford’s campaign promise to scrap the province’s cap-and-trade system.

Sarah Kekewich, communications manager at the Simcoe County District School Board, said the announcement will have a noticeable effect on the public board.

“The overall impact of this announcement to our annual energy budget and energy-conservation achievements is significant,” she said.

School boards were notified on July 3 that the GGRF would be eliminated and that only work contracted on or before that date would be covered.

The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press, advises school boards to stop spending the cash that was allocated in April immediately. “Please maintain detailed records of the contracts that have been signed as ministry staff will contact boards to collect information on the scope of the work underway,” the memo said.

The Simcoe County District School Board had established a five-year energy conservation plan, which detailed projects, timelines, expected outcomes and financial savings, Kekewich said.

With funding in the first year of the GGRF, which ended on March 31, “we were able to significantly reduce our energy use and greenhouse gas emissions through retrofitting 23 schools,” she added.

Across those schools, Kekewich said the retrofits resulted in $677,000 in annual energy savings, a reduction in 10 million kilowatt hours of energy and the elimination of 1,400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The current Year 2 allocation, which we will not be receiving, was to be applied towards continuous improvements to energy conservation retrofits, such as lighting, mechanical and building automation at seven additional buildings,” Kekewich said.

The additional overall impact of those follow-up projects was expected to be an annual savings of $100,000, three million equivalent kilowatt hours, and 500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, Kekewich noted.

However, she said there are no specifics yet as to next steps.

“We will need to revisit the five-year plan and look for alternate sources of funding in order to continue with this important work,” Kekewich said.

Kekewich said the public board will remain focused on well-being and the environment.

“We are proud of the many environmental accomplishments and will be examining how we can continue with our successes in light of this announcement,” Kekewich said Tuesday.

At the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, communications manager Pauline Stevenson said it’s still being determined exactly what effect the cancellation of the GGRF will have on its local schools.

The province has an approximate $15-billion repair backlog at its 4,900 publicly funded schools.

Stephen Seaborn, spokesman for the education advocacy group Campaign for Public Education, said the cut will hurt schools across Ontario.

“It’s bad,” he said. “It was done just like as if it was nothing. There was no discussion about what would be done about the budgets of the schools.”

- With files from Canadian Press




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