Fairgrounds HVAC enhancements pave method for mass vaccinations, different occasions

The modernization of the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems in the Park County Fairgrounds building was completed just in time for the Park County Health Department to set up its first mass vaccination clinic there.

Dr. Park County’s health officer Laurel Desnick said the improvements not only meet an urgent need, but will continue long into the future.

When everything shut down a year ago, people didn’t have a safe place to meet, according to Jim Baerg, a Livingston-based energy-efficient building specialist and Desnick’s husband.

The swamp coolers that previously ventilated the exhibition grounds building were expensive to operate and kept failing, said Morgan Squires, director of the Park County Fairgrounds and Parks.

In addition, the building was poorly insulated and air leaked, said Baerg.

The new airflow system includes three “heat pumps” that can heat and cool the facility as needed, Baerg said, and it appears to be working well so far. He said the system flips the air twice an hour.

Baerg said the heat pumps were positioned over where people would be in the building.

So far the heat pumps have been wonderful, Squires said.

There is also a filtration system that can filter out COVID-19 particles, Baerg said.

Squires with an extra filter added can remove particles like dust from the parking lot.

Desnick said the new system will also be more easily transitioned to solar power if the county ever chooses that route, and comes with lower expected maintenance costs.

“It will certainly be a much better room,” said Desnick.

The first test of the system will take place on Thursday as the health department is set to hold a mass vaccination clinic for key frontline workers. A total of around 570 shots are expected to be fired.

Park County raised funds for the project in a need for a mass vaccination room, Desnick said, which is now complete.

The project’s completion coincided with an increase in the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the need for a large indoor space, Desnick said.

The health department used the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts for its vaccination clinics, which worked very well, but the ministry has outgrown that space.

Desnick said it was important to get the upgrades done at the fairgrounds as there really is no comparable space in the county.

Planning for the project began in late October or early November, Squires said, and conversations between the health department, fairgrounds and parks and county commissioners have been productive throughout the life of the project.

Desnick said planning the project is difficult because no one has ever looked at COVID-19 and it is difficult to find out how the virus actually behaves or how to deal with it effectively. The project followed the Center for Disease Control guidelines, which are still being updated.

Although the project was hampered by some delays due to material shortages and weather, Squires said the project was completed fairly quickly given the scale.

The initial cost of the project was about $ 75,000, according to Desnick.

Knappen said she’d expect a pretty significant return on that number pretty quickly.

Although the improvements came about due to the need for a mass vaccination room, Squires said the improvements will also help the fairground host events such as weddings.

Squires said the fairground has seen a few other improvements in addition to the ventilation system, such as new tables and chairs to prepare for more events.

It will likely take some time before the exhibition center returns to full capacity, Squires said, mostly because people are suspicious of COVID-19 but she is trying to accommodate people and make everything as safe as possible.

Baerg said it remains to be determined how many people will safely fit in the room, but there will be at least 50 at a time.

Anyone looking to think about a big event should contact the Exhibition Centers and Parks Department first, Squires said.

Squires said she thinks people will be moving to outdoor events in the near future, which is great, and she looks forward to people getting back together.

“The real point is that we can gather together again soon,” said Desnick.