June 4, 2010 Volume 111 Number 11

Stimulus funds will help Portland schools with ‘green’ retrofits

The Portland City Council on May 25 approved sub-allocating $11 million in federal stimulus bonds to Portland Public Schools (PPS) for energy and water conservation projects that should create some jobs in the building trades.

The Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds will finance the costs of energy and water conservation projects across 95 Portland schools.

“This is a win-win for the City and for PPS because we can issue these bonds to fund projects that reduce our energy and water use, put people to work this summer, and repay the bonds with the cost savings,” said David Wynde, chair of the school board finance committee.

“This will greatly help put our members back to work,” said John Endicott, business manager of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 in testimony before the City Council.

Endicott said that for the most part, federal stimulus money hasn’t reached construction workers in Oregon. “A hundred of our 450 apprentices have been out of work for over a year,” he said. “It’s difficult to sustain your trade when you can’t continue to train replacement workers that we will need in the future.”

John Mohlis, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbia Pacific Building and Construction Trades Council, told city commissioners that not only is unemployment among the crafts hovering around 30 percent, but underemployment is around 65 percent.

“This is a great idea,” he said of the development bonds. “We need to do more of it.”

The City of Portland received $33.9 million in Recovery Zone bonding authority under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), including $13,548,000 in Recovery Zone Economic Development (RZED) bonds. Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds are taxable municipal bonds that are eligible for a 45 percent direct interest payment subsidy from the federal government.

Endicott told the Labor Press that he talked to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden several months ago about using stimulus funds to retrofit outdated boilers and water pipes at public schools.

“The next day he was on the phone to the mayor (Sam Adams) and the school district,” Endicott said. “He told me ‘this is going to work, I’m going to make it work,’ ” Endicott said.

The City jumped on board and, after evaluating three responses, selected the Portland School District.

“This is such a make-sense idea,” Endicott told the city council. “You’ve got boilers over 60 years old. Some came off Liberty ships they dismantled after World War II, if you can imagine that. They’re very energy inefficient and polluting. So, we get the polluters out, we save a lot of dollars in utility costs for the school district, and we put family wage people to work on those jobs.”

Portland Public Schools will carry the bonding liability on the loan. The sub-allocation has no impact on the City’s budget or to taxpayers.

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