Ontario schools to get $656M to cover ventilation upgrades and other COVID-19 costs
A physically distanced classroom with masks and hand sanitizer is seen at Kensington Community School amidst the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
TORONTO -- The federal government is providing Ontario schools with more than $500 million in funding to cover pandemic-related infrastructure upgrades, such as improving ventilation and investing in broadband infrastructure to support remote learning.
The funding was announced by Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna during a virtual news conference on Wednesday morning.
The provincial government will also chip in another $113 million, meaning that school boards will actually receive a total of $656.5 million to help pay for eligible projects.
“This is part of building back better because there will probably be another pandemic and with airborne transmission we can take measures like ventilation to make spaces safer and healthier for folks,” McKenna said.
The Ontario government said in a news release that the “majority of the funding will support ventilation projects that improve air quality in classrooms across the province.”
But they said that money will also be set aside to pay for broadband infrastructure to support remote learning and space reconfigurations, including new walls, to enhance physical distancing.
The investment comes just two days after the Ontario government ordered the indefinite closure of all schools amid record COVID-19 case counts and surging hospitalization numbers.
“Today’s announcement is important because it allows us to look forward and continue to build upon the investments Ontario has made to improve the safety of schools,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters during the news conference. “This will help support and improve the conditions of our schools and promote health and safety practices. It is going to make a difference. That includes improved ventilation systems, hand washing systems and touchless doors. These are all pragmatic investments that are going to make a difference now and into the future.”
The Ontario government previously provided school boards with $50 million for ventilation upgrades last summer, though some school boards said that they were not given enough time to actually undertake the improvements before students returned to the classroom.
It is not immediately clear when the upgrades that will be paid for through this round of funding will be completed.