Auburn council puts off vote on $1.6 million in HVAC upgrades

·3 min read

Aug. 2—AUBURN — The City Council tabled a vote on $1.6 million in HVAC upgrades Monday, with officials opting to get a second opinion after a previous audit found alarming levels of carbon dioxide in several city buildings.

City staff recommended the council approve funding the upgrades with American Rescue Plan Act funds, but Councilor Steve Milks made a motion Monday to table the issue for three months.

The previous audit, conducted by Building Infrastructure Management Solutions, found that carbon dioxide levels in three buildings — the Hasty Community Center, Norway Savings Bank Arena and the Auburn Public Library — "far exceed acceptable standards."

At the arena, for example, the study found that "CO2 levels in the rinks and locker rooms are exceedingly high," and that it "is impacting occupants' physical health and mental acuity."

However, Milks and Mayor Jason Levesque have questioned the source of the audit as well as the company's structure, arguing the city should hold off for a second opinion.

When making the motion Monday, Milks said he wanted staff to do "a little more due diligence" on the project. The vote to table passed 6-1.

When reached Tuesday, Milks said some of the projects weren't previously on the city's "capital radar," and he wants "to make sure we're getting the best bang for our buck" with the federal relief funds.

"We're not saying it's not needed, or that we're not doing it," he said, adding that officials may find that a local company can do it for cheaper.

The website for Building Infrastructure Management Solutions says it utilizes Maine-based employees and contractors, and BIMS has six Maine offices.

City Manager Phil Crowell said Tuesday that staff will now prepare a request for proposals, and in the meantime, staff "will continue monitoring the safety of the current systems and take the appropriate steps if there is a threat to the safety of staff and patrons."

During a previous workshop, several councilors appeared concerned with the idea of delaying the work. Councilor Ryan Hawes said the facilities are "highly used places."

"Hasty has a failing system now," said Councilor Rick Whiting, adding that if the issue is tabled for three months, the fixes may not occur until winter or later.

During the workshop, a representative from BIMS said the company has worked on several building ventilation projects since the pandemic, and that ARPA funding is specifically targeted for ventilation.

When faced with questions about the audit, he said the company is "more than happy to have our work peer reviewed."

The proposed HVAC upgrades would add a new system at the Hasty Community Center, where there is currently no air conditioning system and the heating system is 66 years old.

At the Auburn Public Library, the audit found that the "existing boilers are beyond their useful life."

"Currently, staff is utilizing plug in portable heaters to make their workspace comfortable," it states.

It also says the ventilation system at Norway Savings Bank Arena does not meet code requirements.