Cass Lake-Bena Schools in Cass Lake, Minnesota, is set to receive a significant boost in energy efficiency through the Renew America’s Schools grant program. The school district, in collaboration with the Region Five Development Commission, has been awarded a portion of the $178 million funding, with Cass Lake-Bena being the sole recipient in Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Energy granted the district’s request for approximately $8.9 million, which will contribute to various upgrades aimed at enhancing energy conservation and safety.
Out of more than 1,000 concept papers requesting a total of nearly $5.5 billion in funding, Cass Lake-Bena was selected as one of the 236 candidates invited to submit a full application. The Department of Energy, recognizing the high demand and evident public need, decided to increase the funding amount from the initial $80 million to $178 million. This additional financial support will allow the district to carry out essential improvements, including the replacement of boilers, HVAC systems, electrical switchboards, and emergency battery fixtures. Other upgrades will involve envelope enhancements, LED installations, and the insulation of piping.
Superintendent Sue Chase expressed her enthusiasm for the grant, emphasizing the positive impact it will have on the district’s energy efficiency and the well-being of students and teachers. The funding will alleviate the financial burden on the district, particularly concerning the costly upgrade of the elementary school’s original boiler system, which has been in place since 1968. Furthermore, the high school will receive new windows that have remained unchanged since the 1990s.
The grant funding stands as a significant investment in the district’s infrastructure, one that would have otherwise required substantial time and expenses to accomplish. It comes alongside a separate referendum approved in the fall, providing approximately $39 million for the construction of a new elementary school and the remodeling of the current elementary into an early childhood and preschool site, alternative learning center, and district service center. Superintendent Chase underscored the distinction between the grant funding and the referendum, clarifying that the grant will specifically support the modernization of existing buildings.
During the grant application process, the district had the opportunity to specify preferences for contractors who would offer apprenticeships to students participating in construction trade courses. This aspect of the grant is seen as an added benefit for students, providing them with valuable learning experiences from industry professionals.
Superintendent Chase acknowledged the vital role played by the Region Five Development Commission in assisting the district in securing the grant funding. She expressed her excitement as the district embarks on this transformative journey and emphasized the continued collaboration with the commission throughout the repair and remodeling process.
The impact of this funding extends beyond Cass Lake-Bena Schools, as approximately 74,000 students and 5,000 teachers across 97 school buildings throughout the country will benefit from similar grants. The initiative aligns with President Joe Biden’s Investing in America Agenda, supporting STEM education, workforce development, and the creation of well-paying jobs that stimulate local economies.
With the Renew America’s Schools grant program, Cass Lake-Bena Schools is poised to make substantial strides in energy efficiency, creating safer and healthier learning environments for their students and staff. The financial support provided by the U.S. Department of Energy will not only address critical infrastructure needs but also contribute to the broader goals of education and sustainable economic development.