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The Forgotten Middle: Emerging Opportunities for Clients Trapped in the Middle

December 01, 2023

Authored by Alex Ray

Five days a week, nearly 57.5 million K-12 public school students enter U.S. classrooms to learn, play and make lifelong memories with their friends and peers. Some students hit the playground for a game of tag while others prep for an AP History test. But for all the positive moments, many students still struggle in sub-optimal classroom learning environments hampered by routine budget shortfalls and mounting deferred maintenance.

Indoor air quality is a particular concern with half of faculty and students breathing air filled with chemicals, mold, viruses, bacteria, asbestos, pesticide and vehicle emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the National Education Association, ventilation rates in classrooms regularly fall below minimum standards for healthy indoor environments, with many schools facing failing HVAC systems. A study of 100 U.S. schools found a direct association between student academic success and classroom ventilation rates with measurable improvements in math and reading observed with HVAC improvements.

These studies highlight only one of the many critical reasons that both local school district and university leaders need to keep their facility infrastructure up to date. Many schools and universities turn to state and Federal funding to address the lion share of their needs, while other fortunate few access funding sourced from their area’s local grants and fundraising. But what about the institutions that have little to no options after their basic appropriations fall well short of funding their critical needs? These institutions are usually neither small enough to garner the compassionate attention of special interest, nor large enough to enjoy top-tier revenues and buoyant community support. I call this subset, “the forgotten middle.”

Whether looking at K-12 or higher education, many administrators across the U.S. are finding themselves in this “forgotten middle”. Why? Because their school is well-off enough to not qualify for other supplemental funding or support, but nowhere near wealthy enough to pay out of pocket or bond for their growing backlog of major construction and renovation projects. This “forgotten middle” group is finding their situation only growing worse as time moves forward, and their extensive infrastructure issues worsening without intervention. To say nothing of the compounded impact of the exploding cost of goods, labor, and borrowed capital. Further still, some K-12 districts must compete with highly competitive neighboring districts siphoning off their enrollment at an impactful rate, further limiting the revenue that leaders rely upon.

With resources routinely falling short of need, and need continuing to grow, these school leaders are having to seek-out, shoehorn, or innovate new and alternative means to ensure their facilities are meeting the minimum standards of warm, safe, and dry.

Many administrators across the U.S. are beginning to find their “best” alternative is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), sometimes referred to as Energy-as-a-Service (EaaS). IaaS is a funding option that allows clients to work directly with broader infrastructure developers, as well as comprehensive service and design companies, without the traditionally required initial funding. This process is new or burgeoning in many states (most recently in 2023 with HB1777 passing in Washington State). The “as-a-Service” model allows administrators to repair, renovate, and upgrade their facilities and infrastructure without being held back by restrictive budgets and borrowing capacity. Time and time again, we are finding campus leaders utilizing the IaaS model to tackle short-term needs and near-term goals, but doing so in a way that encompasses the long-term strategic infrastructure visions of their institutions, be they resiliency, inclusivity, or sustainability-oriented goals.

At Viridis, we believe that the IaaS model is a new and best tool for confronting the U.S. infrastructure crisis that seems to be growing before us, particularly for those schools and educational facilities finding themselves in the expanding “forgotten middle.” We uniquely understand the critical situations that are affecting so many schools and universities across the U.S. No matter the location, we are here to be an infrastructure partner and problem-solver, tackling our client’s short-term needs, near-term goals, and long-term vision.

We encourage anyone to reach out to our team to better understand your options for IaaS partnership and see how Viridis might aid in bringing infrastructure solutions to your school or university.