Makenna Sellers, Winona Bateman, and Steve Thompson

Drafty classroom windows, a leaky roof, a failing boiler, and a backlog of facility maintenance needs ... These are all too familiar realities for teachers, students, and staff in Montana’s K-12 schools.

It doesn’t take a statistician to observe the widely felt need for energy efficient upgrades in our schools. School administrators across the nation are facing tough decisions as they balance two sides of a scale. On one side, you have outdated infrastructure that needs improvement like increased insulation, sealing leaks, or integrating renewable energy resources to reduce energy costs. On the other side of the scale, you have tight budgets that rarely have the margins to cover the upfront costs. That’s true here in Missoula, and many Montana schools, too.

Recently the Electrify Montana coalition–a statewide coalition dedicated to accelerating electrification in the Big Sky State–reached out to schools asking them to share their stories about their infrastructure needs.

One rural western Montana educator shared, “Our current HVAC system is failing. There are certain parts of the building that are receiving heat from our system. We utilize space heaters and multiple layers of clothes so that we can hold class or meetings. One of the three systems that are used can not be fixed and needs a total retrofit. Due to the fact of being a small district, funding, like all schools, is very difficult.”

Another commented, “Our elementary school heating system was not operational for 5 months last school year and for 2+ months to start the 2023-'24 school year. Both boilers were replaced in the fall of 2023, but the plumbing for the entire site (Circa 1958) desperately needs to be replaced/upgraded.”

A Missoula educator shared, “Our building has an outdated and totally inefficient heating system. It is either extremely hot or totally cold in my classroom. Our building does not have AC and during several months of the year it is unbearably hot. This makes for a very uncomfortable learning environment and impedes [students’] ability to focus and stay on task.”

In story after story, Montana educators and administrators outlined stark infrastructure challenges that are affecting student learning and their bottom line.

Thanks to stories like these from school administrators and staff, hundreds of public comments, and a proposal from the Electrify Montana coalition to establish a Smart Schools Fund, the State of Montana recently announced that school energy performance measures will be a priority for the state’s new Climate Action Plan. This is a big advancement for the future sustainability of Montana school infrastructure–a chance at historic investments to help Montana schools overhaul infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions, while improving learning conditions, air quality, and saving on energy costs–thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and its Climate Pollution Reduction Grant opportunities.

Montana is one of 45 states that opted to participate in the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grant program, which has allocated $5 billion dollars for states, tribes and major cities to develop and implement climate action plans that fit their own unique priorities and interests while prioritizing measures that can benefit low-income and disadvantaged communities.

Over the coming weeks, the State of Montana led by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be developing a grant proposal to the EPA that, if selected, will open the door for Montana K-12 schools to enter the clean energy future. Students deserve a safe and stable environment for learning; that includes the built environment. Montana has an historic opportunity to revitalize aging infrastructure, reduce operational costs that save taxpayers money, and reduce carbon emissions.

Are you a parent, student, community member, teacher or administrator who would like to upgrade your school’s energy infrastructure and be part of the climate solution?

Help strengthen Montana's application to support Sustainable 21st Century Schools by completing this survey.

Read about other Montana schools at  

Makenna Sellers (Montana Renewable Energy Association), Winona Bateman (Families for a Livable Climate) and Steve Thompson (Climate Smart Glacier Country) are members of Electrify Montana, a statewide coalition committed to accelerating electrification in Montana.

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