Columbia River Gorge charter school wins nearly $1 million for energy improvements

The Mosier Community School renovation is one of five in the Northwest to garner a Department of Energy grant for energy-efficiency upgrades

By: - July 19, 2023 5:45 am
Mosier Community School serves

The 100-year-old Mosier Community School, a public charter in the North Wasco School District in The Dalles, serves 170 students at any one time and is the only building that can hold more than 10 people for community gatherings or meetings. (Courtesy of Brent Foster)

When Brent Foster entered Mosier Community School last September for a meeting, he realized that something needed to be done about the 100-year-old building.

Everyone inside was sweating.

“It may not have been 100 degrees, but it was darn close if it wasn’t,” Foster told the Capital Chronicle.   

High heat is not good for meetings or learning, and Foster has one child in Mosier Community School, a public charter in the North Wasco School District in The Dalles. It serves prekindergarten through eighth grade, with nearly 170 students in classes at any one time and about a dozen teachers or assistants. The building also serves as the only gym in the area and the sole community meeting space that can hold more than 10 people within a 5-mile radius.

“It’s really a community asset,” Foster said.

Built in 1920, it lacks modern heating and cooling, a problem in an area where temperatures can soar over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and drop to 30 degrees in winter. The building has no insulation, the only ventilation is through the cracks in the window frames and its oil-based boiler is a “museum” piece, Foster said. 

“The school has been wanting to update the HVAC system for years, but there’s been no money for it,” Foster said.

A residential contractor and parent, Foster took the lead in applying for funds through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Renew America’s Schools, a $500 million program funded by the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law. The Department of Energy had planned on approving $80 million in grants in this first round, but more than doubled it to $178 million to meet more of the demand. The department received about 1,000 applications and approved 24 in 22 states.

“It was very competitive, to say the least,” Sarah Zaleski, program manager for schools and nonprofits in the Department of Energy, told the Capital Chronicle.

Brent Foster, a residential contractor and parent of a child in Mosier Community School, said the oil boiler is a “museum” piece. (Courtesy of Brent Foster)

Mosier’s application was the only one approved in Oregon and Washington and was among five successful bids in the five-state Northwest region. Zaleski said it was approved in part because the school doubles as a community playground and meeting and event space. Department of Energy officials were also impressed by the scope of the plan.

“It’s obviously a school that had a high need, and it was doing a great job of serving the community,” Zaleski said. “They also took a really comprehensive and thoughtful approach to their energy improvements.” 

The school will use the money – exactly $868,248 – to install a high-efficiency electric heat pump for heating and cooling to replace the oil-based furnace, seal the inside and add roof insulation to prevent the loss of conditioned air, install heat-recovery ventilators to improve the air quality, replace the single-pane windows with high-efficiency double-pane windows and install LED lighting. 

They’re also adding a rooftop solar system for electricity and a battery backup system to ensure power in an emergency. And finally, they’re installing electric-vehicle charging stations – three for students and staff and a fourth for the community. 

Oregon’s U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said in a news release that the upgrades would drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, utility costs and increase building efficiency while providing major benefits to the health of students, teachers and the community.

School officials will use the project to train at-risk high school students in energy efficiency  through a local nonprofit, Comunidades, Zaleski said.

“They’re trying to make this an opportunity to really develop some of the local workforce through this apprenticeship program,” Zaleski said.

Foster said the school needs to finalize plans with the Department of Energy and hopefully get started this summer. He said it will probably take a year to finish, with work taking place during school breaks.

“It’s going to be a really fundamental change for the school, for the students that go there and for the teachers and staff,” Foster said.



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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.