Education

Iowa City schools work with Cedar Rapids company on climate action initiatives

Massimo Paciotto-Biggers speaks Oct. 4, 2019, along with other Iowa City teen activists before introducing Swedish teen
Massimo Paciotto-Biggers speaks Oct. 4, 2019, along with other Iowa City teen activists before introducing Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg in downtown Iowa City. The student-led movement has resulted in the Iowa City school board and the city of Iowa City each passing a climate resolution. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District will work with Design Engineers of Cedar Rapids on its climate action plan, which includes increasing the district’s use of renewable energy, conducting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and studying the solar power feasibility of buildings.

The project will use the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy Life Cycle funds, which is designated for small projects and energy improvements. The cost of hiring Design Engineers as the district’s climate action consultant is $45,000.

Interim Superintendent Matt Degner said working on the climate action plan was delayed as the school board prioritized return-to learn plans at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Degner said the climate action plan is “urgent” and the school district is working to continue prioritizing it.

Iowa City schools Director of Facilities Duane Van Hemert said Design Engineers is “one of the best consultants in the country.”

“I’ve been around energy a long time and done a lot of energy-related projects, and I was impressed,” he said. “They’ve shown their commitment to (renewable) energy and they know what it takes.”

The school board passed a resolution last year to develop climate literacy curriculum, develop greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and use sustainable agriculture practices in school menu planning.

Design Engineers will be doing the following:

• Evaluating the feasibility of putting solar panels on district buildings, including energy cost savings at current utility rates and estimated construction cost.

• Identifying energy efficiency measures to reduce electrical usage by 20 percent.

• Develop a plan to convert all natural gas equipment to electric

• Develop a plan to convert all district vehicles to electric, including buses.

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• And develop a capital investment timeline with the goal of a 45 percent reduction by 2030 and net-zero by 2050.

School board President Shawn Eyestone said the consultant contract is a “step in the right direction.”

The decision to hire a consultant to help the district implement the Climate Action Plan comes during a week of action for a student-led group advocating that the district, the city of Iowa City and the University of Iowa commit to climate action.

Massimo Paciotto-Biggers, 15, a sophomore at Iowa City High, has been leading the group of students for over a year in a striking for action on climate change.

Massimo inspired over 800 people to join him and his classmates in a March 2019 strike to demand adults take action against climate change.

In October 2019, he introduced Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg at a rally for climate change in Iowa City.

A virtual festival to address climate change has been encouraging participants to message the school district, the UI, the city and Gov. Kim Reynolds, asking them to commit to renewable energy.

Massimo said it has been 15 months since the school district resolved to create a climate action plan, and there has been little progress.

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“We really need urgent and radical action now,” he said. “I’m really disappointed.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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