Gainesville Schools and Community Benefit from Foundation Investment

Last Updated: April 28, 2012

This article appeared in the April 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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In rural Ozark County, Missouri, the local school district is now using a wood-chip fueled generator which will provide significant energy savings, and which was in part funded by local investment.

Gainesville R-V School District went online with their new generator last fall, just in time to heat the district’s entire campus for the winter. By eliminating the need for nearly all natural gas, the district can expect to save about $37,000 per year on heating and cooling costs. According to Superintendent Bill Looney, the district was also able to replace all its old windows with energy-efficient windows, replace baseboard water heaters in all of the bathrooms, and make other energy-efficient improvements.

Energy costs and facility maintenance are two of the most significant fixed costs for rural schools, and switching to the biomass generator was an expensive project for the small district.

But an investment initiative of the local community foundation made the upgrade possible. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks (CFO)’s Mission Related Investment Program was created to provide low-interest loans for local projects when conventional financing sources are not available. CFO made a $1.1 million loan to the Gainesville School District for the generator, worked out through a lease-purchase agreement. Over the course of ten years the district will make below-market interest rate payments to CFO to own the generator outright. Gainesville also enlisted financial support from White River Valley Electric Cooperative.

The biomass heating unit was also funded partially by a grant using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. Gainesville and five other districts in Missouri received the support through the “Fuels for Schools” project of the Missouri Department of Conservation. MDC allocated the funds in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s State & Private Forestry Program. Through the program, the USDA and MDC encourage energy efficiency and forest health, and create jobs in rural Missouri.

There are also environmental benefits that will accrue from this project. The wood chips used to fuel the generator come from low-value wood in local forests. They are sourced from small diameter trees, which have little to no market value. Utilizing those trees improves forest health and lowers fire hazard.

School facilities play a powerful role in a child’s education, and maintaining safe and efficient facilities is a significant financial challenge for many rural school districts, who often left to their own devices by states to find funding for improvements. For the Gainesville schools, though, community investment made the difference.

 Read more:

Local coverage of the ribbon-cutting for the generator:

Gainesville Junior High/High School website with photos of the project and FAQs:

Coverage discussing the Community Foundation of the Ozarks’ Mission-Related Investment initiative:

More on the MDC Fuels for Schools Program:


Read more from the April 2012 Rural Policy Matters.