FLORENCE, Colo. — Fremont Elementary School, which was constructed in 1963, continues to serve students from preschool to sixth grade, and the school is in dire need of upgrades.

“Fremont Elementary actually celebrates its 60th birthday next year and this was a school that was built with no HVAC system whatsoever,” said Brenda Krage, Superintendent of Fremont RE-2 School District. “So it’s a long-needed project that’s needed to be fixed.”

Holman said the school has applied several times for the Building Excellent Schools Today Grant.

“BEST stands for Building Excellent Schools today,” said Andy Stine, Director of Capital Construction for Colorado Department of Education. “This program is here to assist schools in replacing a school if necessary. But we award a lot of more projects like this one to assist in repairing health, safety and security deficiencies in facilities. So things like roofs and boilers and back systems.”

All Colorado public schools are eligible to receive the BEST grant. Fremont RE-2 School District received a $3.8 million BEST grant this year.

“It’s a competitive grant to go for, and it’s not easy to go and to secure a BEST grant,” stated Krage.

The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged the school to look into the health of students, specifically the air quality.

“One thing that COVID brought out was we looked a lot closer at the air that we’re breathing,” said Mindy Holman, Principal of Fremont Elementary School. “And in doing so, the district realized that some of the air quality in the building was not really what we would want for our families.”

The BEST grant will help Fremont Elementary School install a full HVAC and ventilation system which the school previously did not have.

“This is huge for our classroom and our kids and they’re learning they get hot and tired. And teachers are hot and tired by afternoon and they work hard all day long,” said Holman. “So, cooling them off…throughout the year is really important to us.”

Fourth-grade teacher Bailey Heard said when she was a student, there was no air conditioning, and she is excited for these improvements now as a teacher.

“You’re going to be able to like, get a lot more out of your students and you’re going to perform better as a teacher,” said Heard.

The school is partnering with McKinstry to help with the construction of the new ventilation system.

“We have a focus at McKinstry on student health and safety and improving the indoor learning environment,” stated Ashley Brasovan, McKinstry Senior Account Executive. “So, this was really a necessary project for the school district and for the community to really improve that HVAC system and upgrade and add all that ductwork and piping to get the air quality up to code.”

While the inside is being updated, the exterior of the building will be preserved.

“I know a lot of people in this community and they really value tradition. And Florence is just a really old town and everybody loves it so much,” said Heard. “So I think it’s really cool to see that we’re preserving something that’s so important to alot of people.”

Around the school, there are signs explaining to families the new updates to the building.

“We want people to understand why we have dust and why we’re in the middle of construction,” said Kragle. “We started the summer with some asbestos removal. Right now, all the big equipment is being ordered and next summer will be a heavy-duty construction zone in this school. But we wanted our taxpayers to understand what was happening in the building.”

Construction will continue in the spring and summer of 2023. The project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2023.

The application for the BEST grant can be found online and has the contacts for the four regional program managers across the state.