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School Officials, Design Experts Discuss Hawley HVAC With Finance Board



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Superintendent of Schools Lorrie Rodrigue, along with the district business manager and facilities director, brought along a pair of design experts as they reviewed their proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with the Board of Finance on September 26. Finance board members Mark Boland and Vice Chair Sandy Roussas were away on business.

Peter Luchini and Ronald Bathrick of RZ Design Associates Inc joined Facilities Director Rob Gerbert and Business Manager Ron Bienkowski for the meeting, which was monitored remotely via live streaming by The Newtown Bee. The consultants specifically addressed the Hawley School HVAC project coming up in Year One of the proposed district CIP.

RZ Design Associates provides consulting, engineering, and design services for heating and air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, fire protection, lighting, electrical, voice and data telecommunications systems, structural engineering, and other facility components, according to the company website.

Dr Rodrigue started by reviewing current school district projects completed this summer, including the Hawley School boiler replacement and energy upgrades. She said boiler replacements at the high school were nearing completion.

Turning to the matter of adjustments made to utility company incentives for energy upgrades, Mr Bienkowski explained that those estimates are calculated as far as a year and a half in advance, before any actual installations are completed. The types of equipment under the Eversource incentive program are also based on “what they think they’re going to put in the facility,” he added.

“As time goes on, sometimes the technology improves, and there may be updated pieces of equipment that they could put in in place of what they thought,” Mr Bienkowski said. He said the contractor is required to provide the utility with a complete list of fixtures and other information to be upgraded.

“In the high school, there’s literally thousands of them,” Mr Bienkowski said of the high school equipment being included in the incentive program.

He told the finance board when the first estimate for the high school boiler replacement was calculated, it was “close to $400,000,” but when Eversource learned the existing 45-year-old boilers were nearing mandatory replacement time, Eversource was unwilling to supplement the full replacement cost.

Dr Rodrigue said the CIP Committee of the Board of Education has put great effort into vetting and prioritizing projects across the five-to-ten-year CIP landscape. The superintendent qualified that as the plan changes and time passes, some projects become subject to modifications.

She said the Hawley HVAC project on the current CIP, which has been postponed for more than a decade, “has an impact” on other projects across the district’s plan.

The superintendent also mentioned the district prioritizes “high needs” and factors a six percent annual rate of inflation each year as projects move closer to their actual bonding and funding cycle so projected costs may be subject to fluctuation.

She went on to say after retaining a professional estimator, several school roofing projects were found to be less costly than the stated CIP request.

Focusing on CIP Years One-Five, Dr Rodrigue noted the Hawley HVAC and ventilation work, originally estimated at $5,002,267, is the district’s only request for the 2020-21 CIP cycle. She told the finance board that after professional review by RZ Design Associates, they estimated a fully ducted system should only cost $3,961,345.

The company also provided another alternative — a ducted ventilation system with multiple ductless split air conditioners throughout the building, versus fully ducted ERV units with DX cooling and hot water coils.

The ERV units are a preferred system for providing fresh air into the building while exhausting an equal amount of stale air to the outside. The DX or direct expansion air conditioning units cool indoor air using a condensed refrigerant liquid.

The superintendent said the project scope was originally based on a climate control report that reinforced the importance of school air quality and the availability of fresh air in schools. She said the district’s use of ductless splits have been used exclusively for cooling, and the district knows the advantages and disadvantages to that type of system.

Mr Gerbert then explained to the finance officials that in his experience, rooftop air conditioning and air handling units versus ductless splits offer advantages when it comes to bringing in fresh air.

“You’re either heating or cooling the air that’s in the room,” he said of the ductless splits. Mr Gerbert said rooftop systems can bring in cooler fresh air earlier in the day, which can pre-cool the building, and would “marry well” with the design of the Hawley building.

He described a network of ductless splits serving an entire school as a “farm of units and a spider web of refrigerant piping, which could make trouble-shooting leaks much more difficult.” He added that the piping could destroy the exterior look of the building as well.

Mr Bienkowski said the district brought in the consultants because of the $5 million estimate on the current CIP, which he said was “criticized last year.” The district business manager said the facilities committee had basically rejected a full ductless split system in favor of one that included air handling capabilities.

Mr Bathrick said they reviewed the two options, saying the preferred system will provide a longer duration of operation and lower maintenance costs, and when any maintenance is required, the recommended system would allow for little or no interruption of classroom activities — unlike service calls on the ductless splits.

Mr Bathrick said the vented system would permit the necessary ventilation to meet minimum ventilation codes. The preferred system has “energy recovery” capabilities, and the rooftop units are equipped with “economizers” that will bring in fresh air and exhaust interior air as soon as the outside temperature drops below the temperature settings inside various zones within the building.

“It is true the ductless splits are very complex and do not integrate well with the ABS system you have in this building — the central station units do,” he said.

The HVAC consultant said if the project moves forward, RZ Design Associates representatives will work closely with district and Town officials to minimize any ducting disturbing architectural features within the building and would work with them if any offered “better ideas” about how to accomplish the project with minimal impact and disruption.

Mr Bienkowski said after the design and engineering phase, construction and installation work would be scheduled for completion during the summer of 2021-22.

Mr Bathrick said that he did not know where the $5 million projection came from, but he and his consultants were “very comfortable” with the $4 million estimate. Responding to a question from finance board member Steve Hinden, Mr Bathrick said the ductless split system in the quote would still require an air handling unit to supplement fresh air circulation.

“Right now, you have no air quality, except opening windows,” the consultant said of the current status of the building.

Mr Bienkowski added that the ductless split system proposed would have an approximate service life of 15 years, while the $4 million ducted system has a potential lifespan in excess of 30 years.

Finance board member Ned Simpson asked whether the Town Sustainable Energy Commission was involved in the project, to which Mr Bathrick said they were not.

Board Chairman James Gaston said this project has languished in the CIP since 2005, and it was time to see it completed.

“It’s been a long time coming,” he said.

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