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Alvord Unified School District touts multi-phase energy program expected to save nearly $32 million  – Riverside County News Source

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RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif., — In a move toward greater environmental sustainability, fiscal resiliency and responsibility, and improving indoor air quality for their students, Alvord Unified School District (AUSD) is on its way to becoming the only California school district of its size with an entirely up-to-date heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system districtwide. AUSD encompasses the western portion of the City of Riverside, the eastern portion of the city of Corona, and segments of unincorporated parts of Riverside County, such as Home Gardens.

As part of their “Alvord Energy” program, AUSD’s Board of Education has also approved irrigation and field improvements to cultivate functional outdoor learning spaces at many of the District’s twenty-three schools, and will provide an added benefit of conserving water, another District goal. The improvements are part of a multi-phase, multi-year project that began in 2013 but gained traction after a June 2020 U.S. Government of Accountability Office Covid-related report revealed that 41% of districts representing about 36,000 schools nationwide needed to replace at least half of their HVAC systems.

The program is expected to produce more than $31.8 million in savings over the life of the new equipment, according to AUSD officials.

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Alvord Unified has been steadily replacing and improving infrastructure at its schools since 2013 through several phases of an extensive, comprehensive modernization program. Now entering their third and fourth round of improvements in the era of Covid and the ongoing pandemic and public health crisis, AUSD is creatively using federal funding to modernize all HVAC equipment along with solar and non-solar outdoor learning/lunch shelters, intelligent building controls, and irrigation improvements, say District officials.

AUSD’s new HVAC technology and equipment features ventilation and filtration systems that meet the Centers for Disease Controls’ Covid-related health guidelines and will directly combat the transmission of disease by removing contaminated airborne droplets from a space, according to Climatec, which has partnered with AUSD to replace the district’s aging HVAC systems. The district also purchased air scrubbers that deactivate viruses, kill bacteria and remove other air pathogens for areas that have yet to receive new HVAC systems.

AUSD’s district-wide upgrades include a solar array, energy-efficient lighting, and all new HVAC systems at La Sierra High School. Alvord Unified School District photo

The improvements AUSD is making at its high school gyms will drastically improve indoor air quality in spaces that typically host large amounts of students and their families through sports and other community events, such as La Sierra and Norte Vista high schools.

According to AUSD, both schools had obsolete heating-only equipment in their gyms, leaving sports fans and event-goers stuffy from a lack of cooling and poor ventilation. However, the new high-efficiency HVAC brings fresh air from outside into the space, filtering and conditioning it for optimal comfort.

“Although we don’t know how or when social distancing guidelines will allow us to use the gym, it’s assuring for our community to know we will be ready to safely reopen when the time comes,” shared Dr. Tania Cabeza, principal for La Sierra. “We are thankful to the Board of Trustees for making this sound investment to improve air quality in an area that needs it the most.”

Norte Vista High School shares a similar sentiment after years of receiving complaints about the gym’s poor air flow and lack of comfort.

“The addition of air conditioning in the gym is going to make a world of a difference as we see our local climate get warmer each year,” shares Jason Marquez, principal for Norte Vista. “Through Phases I and II of our infrastructure upgrade, we have replaced nearly all HVAC with modern equipment that improves indoor air quality.”

Upgrades as part of AUSD’s multi-phase “Alvord Energy” project include new building automation systems and interior and exterior LED lighting modernizations, as well as upgraded HVAC systems at Hillcrest High School’s campus and football field. Alvord Unified School District photo

According to Climatec, in addition to enhancing the comfort and safety of AUSD facilities, the sheer efficiency of the new equipment, which include new building automation systems and districtwide interior and exterior LED lighting modernizations, will cut energy and former maintenance and operations costs enough to pay for the improvements and provide positive net cash flow for AUSD’s budget.

Rather than diving headfirst into solar, AUSD administrators made a conscious decision to do a pilot solar program including a carport solar shade structure at Villegas Middle School, which was chosen because it has some of the highest energy rates in the district. 

Their intent is to expand to other sites only after the performance of the first of the solar arrays are vetted, and the savings generated by the new solar structure is helping to pay for the comprehensive program while supporting the Board of Trustees’ vision to move toward zero net energy.

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Of the District’s many and ongoing infrastructure upgrades, AUSD Executive Director of Administrative Services Kevin Emenaker said, “In an era of COVID-19, children – and public education as we know it – are threatened without modern air quality technology and alternative, in-person learning environments.”

“Improving air quality is essential to students and staff safely getting back in the classroom, but that’s not the only solution we’re working toward,” he explained. “California has been battling restraints on water and electricity, which we’ve felt here in our region. As federal funding became available to address these very issues, we doubled down on our commitment to spend wisely in order to create safer, sustainable schools. This is an ongoing commitment requiring regular adaptation to the situations at hand.”

“Our initial phase of improvements in 2015 helped us tackle the rising costs of utilities and relieve a portion of our deferred maintenance liability,” Emenaker continued. “Now, as we do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, our number one priority is implementing the right equipment, technology, and sanitation practices to keep our students and staff healthy when they return.”

“It feels good to know we’re doing all we can in a situation we don’t have a lot of control over,” he added. “Beyond just responding to current safety needs for COVID-19, the work we are doing to renew our infrastructure will benefit our facilities and the health of our community for decades.”

According to Climatec, construction is well underway and projected for completion this fall. Once complete, the infrastructure modernizations will drastically reduce the District’s greenhouse gas emissions and cut electric consumption by approximately 3.9 million kilowatt-hours per year–the equivalent of powering 400 Riverside homes per year.



Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 51, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and operates Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS). Both are stringer organizations, providing breaking news coverage and community interest stories for other mainstream media organizations throughout the two regions they serve.

Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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