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Work on the Pioneer Complex concluded last week; upgrade hoped to help slow COVID spread in building

 - New rooftop ventilation equipment can be seen atop the Pioneer Complex facility.

In an effort to slow COVID spread among local students and educators, work was recently completed to upgrade a Crook County School District facility.

Last week, the school district's facilities department wrapped up a $1.5 million installation of heat recovery ventilators and mini-split air conditioning systems at Pioneer Complex.

School leaders stress that the health of students and staff and keeping schools open are top priorities for Crook County School District as COVID-19 continues to impact local communities. One way to reduce transmission and infection rates of the virus, they continue, is through consistent ventilation of air in classrooms.

Studies by organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that one way to reduce COVID-19 transmission inside buildings is through the consistent exchange of fresh air.

There are three buildings on the Pioneer Complex campus: Pioneer North houses Steins Pillar Elementary School; Pioneer South includes Grizzly Mountain HomeLink and Pioneer Alternative High School, and there's a gymnasium located in between the two main buildings. The gym already has a ventilation system installed.

The educational campus, which dates back the 1930s, is the oldest facility in the district and houses Steins Pillar Elementary School, Grizzly Mountain HomeLink, and Pioneer Alternative High School.

Some of the classroom windows are so old that teachers are unable to open them to bring in fresh air. The ventilation system runs all day, filtering and exchanging the air at least 15 times per hour. It also allows the facilities crew to shut down the system when air quality is poor outside due to smoke from wildfires or air inversions.

"We committed to our families this year that our school district would do everything possible to keep students in school and avoid distance learning because of COVID-19," said Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson. "This upgrade not only improves safety during the pandemic but also improves air quality for our students and staff moving forward."

Air conditioning has also been added to the North and South buildings, which will keep classrooms at comfortable temperatures during the warm days of early fall, late spring, and potential summer school activities. The school district also plans to add the same ventilation system to the Powell Butte Community Charter School this winter.

"We just wrapped up a long-range facilities planning process and most of the work addresses various maintenance needs across the district, so this project helps to scratch one more item off the list as we budget for future projects," Johnson explained.

Funding for these projects came from the $2.2 billion CARES Act stimulus package passed by Congress in March 2020. Part of the package includes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). School districts can use the money to address the various impacts of COVID-19 mainly through facility repairs and upgrades.

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