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Seasonal Giving Aids Two Oregon School Districts With $300K Donation Post-Wildfires

Andy Nelson

Amid the global generosity movement of Giving Tuesday, people far and wide are donating to community organizations. This year, two Oregon school districts are receiving support after being impacted by wildfires in Sept.

As part of Giving Tuesday, the Chicago-based international air purification producer Blueair announced they donated air purifiers, as well as more than $1 million to organizations across the country. This includes four hospitals, a Chicago-based community organization, and 11 schools affected by outdoor air quality.

Of those schools, air purifiers and roughly $100,000 in funding will be donated to the Phoenix-Talent School District which was hit by the Almeda Wildfire, and $200,000 to the local McKenzie School District which was damaged by the Holiday Farm Fire.

These funds will be used to improve remote learning and support families who have lost their homes, belongings, and experienced other hardship from the wildfires.

McKenzie School District Superintendent Lane Tompkins said access to internet and other telecommunications is still the biggest issue facing the district. Meanwhile, they have been looking into various short-term and long-term solutions as the community waits for CenturyLink and Charter Spectrum to rebuild and expand their telecommunications infrastructures.

Tompkins said the district went months without a functioning phone. Take it from him, not having a working telephone connection impacts more than your ability to call someone.

“People don’t realize how pervasive the internet is in our daily life,” said Tompkins.

Without a phone line, Tompkins said the district has had issues with things such as trying to get their fire alarm back online so it connects to the reporting center.

“Even something as simple as printing checks,” said Tompkins. “Our software requires that there’s a secure IP and an approved printer. And if we don’t have a stable and reliable internet connection, we can’t do simple things that you really take for granted.”

Tompkins said the district is still working off of an emergency internet network put in place by the Oregon Internet Response group. The organization has supported the community with temporary solutions by installing emergency Wi-Fi boxes, and helped the McKenzie School District’s in-person staff access phones and limited internet connection.

Potential solutions to the district’s connectivity problems include working with internet providers to restore connection in schools or funding a redundant connection to have an uninterrupted signal, which would also allow the district to be less reliant on taxpayer money. But some of these options are a bit pricey.

“The dream solution that anybody would want to be able to control our own black-fiber connection from Eugene to Bend—that would be like $23 million. Which that’s unfeasible,” said Tompkins. “We’ve had some projects proposed that could work on building the redundant connection. That total project would be maybe $600,000. A fiber build from one direction, we’ve had kind of a ballpark from $400,000.”

With the donation from Blueair, the district can work toward making some of these ideas a reality. Tompkins said he is thankful for the funding and is excited to see the potential it has to support their district and the Blue River community.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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