City seeking federal funds to upgrade HVAC systems

Zack Thorington

The City of Powell is hoping the federal government will pick up the tab for some heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades at three city facilities.

This year’s city budget includes $420,000 to replace the HVAC systems at city hall, the Powell Police Department and The Commons. However, the Powell City Council is now seeking American Rescue Plan Act dollars for the work: The council voted unanimously on Jan. 3 to submit a grant application to the State Loan and Investment Board.

“It’s worth a try,” said city administrator Zack Thorington.

The state board has made $50 million worth of ARPA funding available to cities, towns, counties and tribal councils for capital projects that address “identifiable harm caused or exacerbated by COVID-19.”

Applicants must provide a description and data explaining how the project is related to COVID-19 and why the city’s existing equipment is inadequate.

City building official Ben Hubbard said the city’s roof-mounted system is inefficient and the ducts are plagued by leaks. Meanwhile, he said the 20-year-old rooftop packaged units aren’t expected to last much longer, nor is the roof.

As part of one combined project, the city will replace the units, the roof membrane and move the ductwork inside, which will require a new ceiling. Ultimately, Hubbard said the work will result in more efficient temperature controls at city hall.

As for the police department — which has three aging roof-mounted units — “the duct system is a mess and the rooms are all different temperatures at different times when they shouldn’t be,” Hubbard said. As at city hall, he said the new design at the police department will provide improved and more precise temperature controls and include some redundancy when one unit goes down.

At The Commons, the city is looking to replace three furnaces and two swamp coolers with roof-top units. Hubbard said the current swamp coolers “are terrible for a building and don’t work enough to make the room comfortable — not to mention their inefficiency and the holes left in the roof to drain the heat through in the winter.”

The work at city hall is expected to cost $185,000, with $175,000 set aside for the police station upgrades and $60,000 for The Commons.

As for how the projects relate to COVID-19, Thorington said HVAC systems can be used to help take care of airborne pathogens. At a meeting last month, the five elected officials who make up the State Loan and Investment Board awarded ARPA funds to multiple hospitals to upgrade HVAC and air handling equipment; State Treasurer Curt Meier indicated he believed the HVAC-related projects were more likely to fit within federal criteria for the funds than some other requests.

At the Jan. 3 council meeting, Thorington quipped, “$420,000 out of $50 million, we should be able to get it.”

The state board has not announced when it will consider the applications.