WESTMINSTER — Faced with a potential cost of $3.3 million for a revamped ventilation and additions to its air conditioning system, the Bellows Falls Union High School Board on Monday put off a final decision until it gets a green light on whether it gets support from Efficiency Vermont.
The school board has been working on revamping its heating and ventilation system since shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopes to minimize the cost on the local taxpayer.
Superintendent Andrew Haas said he was still waiting for a decision from Efficiency Vermont on whether it would fund a significant portion of the project, which is expected to also be funded by federal COVID-19 grants since it would have a big impact on air quality.
Engineer Michael Sullivan, who has been working on designing the new system, told the board that air conditioning would cover more of the building, but not all of it. Portions of the building that wouldn’t be air conditioned would be the two cafeterias, the gymnasium and the locker rooms.
BFUHS School Director Priscilla Lambert of Rockingham stressed the importance of having air conditioning in the entire building. Lambert, a retired teacher from the high school, said programs in the school during the summer and other warm weather months were difficult without air conditioning.
Lambert said after the meeting she expected the board would continue the discussion about air conditioning at the school.
BFUHS School Director June Streeter of Westminster also said she supports air conditioning for the school, noting that air quality would deteriorate with “300 sweaty kids” on a hot day.
Haas said that he and BFUHS Principal John Broadley had had a good discussion with Efficiency Vermont back in June about the entire project, but since then hadn’t heard anything about their proposal.
Haas said he had been warned that if the school district went forward with the project planning and gets approval from the state Agency of Education, without first getting clearance from Efficiency Vermont, then Efficiency Vermont wouldn’t help with funding.
BFUHS School Director Margo Ghia of Rockingham said that she works with Efficiency Vermont in her own job, and she said they were currently pressed for staff because of the summer months.
Efficiency Vermont is a non-profit organization, funded by Vermont utility and consumers, that is working to reduce the state’s energy consumption.
Sullivan had estimated that with the various review and bids, construction on the new system couldn’t begin until next summer.
BFUHS School Director David Clark said he wouldn’t be comfortable going ahead with the new HVAC system until the school is tested for potential PCB chemical contamination. The city of Burlington had to move out of its high school because of high levels of PCBs, 10 times the allowable limit, and is facing a $160 million bond vote to build a new school, Clark pointed out.
But Clark said that BFUHS had been put at the back of the list of schools to be eligible for PCB testing.