GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Enlarged School District is moving forward with plans to spend approximately $8.5 million of the remaining money it received from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on a new ventilation and air conditioning system for the district’s high school and elementary school buildings.
GESD Superintendent David Halloran explained that the rules of the federal ARPA allow districts to spend a substantial portion of the funding on mechanical upgrades to school district buildings to improve their air flow.
“This is to upgrade ventilation, it’s about the quality of the air the kids are breathing,” Halloran said. “And when you have these air exchange units, air conditioning [cooling] comes along with it, but not only will it cool the air it — it also cleans the air.”
During a special meeting on Wednesday, the GESD school board met with Turner Construction, the company managing the district’s 2020-approved $32.5 million capital project, and its architectural firm CSArch, which has worked with GESD on several capital improvement projects.
While Turner Construction officials told the school board that in total GESD has about $10 million in ARPA money available for mechanical upgrades, the firm advised keeping approximately $1.5 million of the funding in reserve for potential cost overruns.
The school board was told CSArch has designed a plan to upgrade all of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems throughout the rest of GESD, at a cost of approximately $25 million, significantly more than the $8.5 million remaining in ARPA funding.
A representative from Turner then explained the new air quality systems aren’t needed for Gloversville’s middle school, because they were replaced during the $37.8 million capital project approved in 2015, leaving the school board to decide where among the high school and elementary schools to apply the $8.5 million in ARPA funding for new HVAC units.
“What’s guided us [in our recommendations] are which buildings have your summer schools, that get the most heat in July and August, and what areas in each buildings are used for summer school, and then we focused on the second floors and southern exposure that are really going to get the heat of the sun,” said one Turner official during the presentation.
Halloran said Turner has recommended the district place some of the new HVAC systems in the southeastern corner of Park Terrace Elementary School, but the board will need to make a determination as to whether that’s the best area to spend the funds.
“Some of board members have said their understanding is that the northwestern facing second story is the hottest, because of the black roof underneath it,” Halloran said. “So, that’s the only thing we’re looking at [possibly changing from Turner and CSArch’s recommendations]. We need to do a deeper dive on that [(before we] proceed with the submission of this work to SED [(the New York state Education Dept.], so we can get approval, so we can purchase the equipment that is needed. Some of that money needs to be spent by September 2023, so there is a bit of an expedited need.”
Halloran said school districts throughout the United States are doing similar ventilation upgrade projects and Turner is advising that each month of delay before GESD begins work could result in an additional 1% to 2% escalation in cost. He said he’s hopeful the federal government may have some recognition of the difficulty of the tight deadlines for spending the ARPA funding and might allow some leeway, but if that doesn’t happen, time is running out.
“We’re looking at the next two summers, summer 2023 and summer 2024, as really our only opportunity to get this work done,” Halloran said.
Halloran said the air cooling system should benefit the learning environment for students attending summer school classes.
“During the summer time, class rooms can be sweltering, depending on the summer and how hot it is, and having students learn in a climate controlled environment, if they’re not uncomfortable they will be more focused and engaged in the learning, as opposed to miserable, hot and sticky,” Halloran said. “Now, I’ve worked in schools where in May and June and September — it can be very uncomfortable — so, our hope that those south-facing or second story classrooms that tend to be hotter, by making them climate controlled, not only will it help summer school, but also the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year when we can have hot, humid weather.”
Halloran said the school board will be contacting past administrators and custodians who have worked in Park Terrace School as a potential resource to determine which wing of the school should receive the HVAC units, in the hope they might be more objective than any personnel currently working in those wings. He said the board will make its decision on where the units will go “within a week or two.”
“We’ve just got to do a little more fact-finding on that,” he said.