No decision yet on the BFUHS HVAC system | Local News

WESTMINSTER — Faced with a potential cost of $3.3 million for revamped ventilation and additions to its air conditioning system, the Bellows Falls Union High School Board postponed a final decision on Monday until it gets fire green to find out if 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 to the local ratepayer.

Superintendent Andrew Haas said he is still awaiting a decision from Efficiency Vermont on whether it will fund a significant portion of the project, which is also expected to be funded by federal COVID-19 grants because it would have a significant impact on the air quality.

Engineer Michael Sullivan, who worked on the design of the new system, told the council that air conditioning would cover more of the building, but not all of it. The parts of the building that would not be air-conditioned would be the two cafeterias, the gymnasium and the locker rooms.

BFUHS school principal Priscilla Lambert of Rockingham stressed the importance of having air conditioning throughout the building. Lambert, a retired high school teacher, said schedules at school during the summer and other hot months were difficult without air conditioning.

Lambert said after the meeting that she expected the board to continue discussing air conditioning at the school.

BFUHS principal June Streeter of Westminster also said she supported the school’s air conditioning, noting the air quality would deteriorate with ‘300 sweaty children’ on a hot day.

Haas said he and BFUHS director John Broadley had a good discussion with Efficiency Vermont in June about the whole project, but since then they haven’t heard anything about their proposal.

Haas said he was warned that if the school district proceeded with planning the project and obtained approval from the National Agency for Education, without first obtaining permission from Efficiency Vermont, then Efficiency Vermont would not would not help with funding.

BFUHS school principal Margo Ghia of Rockingham said she’s been working with Efficiency Vermont in her own work, and she said they’re currently pressed for staff due to the summer months.

Efficiency Vermont is a non-profit organization, funded by Vermont utilities and consumers, working to reduce the state’s energy consumption.

Sullivan had estimated that with the various reviews and offers, construction of the new system could not begin until next summer.

BFUHS school principal David Clark said he would not be comfortable moving forward with the new HVAC system until the school has been tested for possible contamination chemical by PCBs. The city of Burlington had to vacate its high school due to high PCB levels, 10 times the allowable limit, and faces a $160 million bond vote to build a new school, Clark pointed out.

But Clark said the BFUHS was placed last on the list of schools eligible for PCB testing.