Board Sees No Clear Path Yet for Bedford Library HVAC Project

July 26, 2023
These units are all slated to be replaced at the Bedford Public Library. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

There is no obvious path to a quick replacement of the aging heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system at the Bedford Free Public Library.

Town Meeting approved bonding $2.5 million to cover the work, which was approved in 2021. But when the two bids on the job were opened in May, they were several hundred thousand dollars in excess of the authorized amount.

Library trustees last week agreed that the best course is to expedite the replacement, even if planned full electrification has to be delayed.

But that won’t be so easy. As Acting Facilities Director Ron Scaltreto told the Select Board at its meeting on Monday night, high-energy gas-fired equipment might be less expensive, but will still require time for redesign.

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And the designer used by the town for the project is thinking of retiring, Scaltreto added. 

“The estimates go back years and there been just an inflation of prices,” which was “totally unexpected,” he said.

The Select Board is empowered to determine which path to follow, and on Monday night, members held off on any action.

They did not mention the option of asking a Special Town Meeting to approve supplemental funds to allow work to proceed.

One new possibility was introduced by Amy Fidalgo, Assistant Town Manager of Operations: using community preservation funds. The town has taken this route with other buildings, she pointed out. 

Under state law, rehabilitation of historic property is permitted use of community preservation money. The original portion of the library, facing Mudge Way, was built in 1967. According to state law, property not listed in the National Register of Historic Places must be designated as historic by the local Historic Preservation Commission to qualify. 

Board member Emily Mitchell, liaison to the library trustees, said Monday that “their biggest concern is any further delay. They feel they are working on borrowed time with the system.”

She said they favor the best route to protect the library’s assets, staff, and services. Moving toward energy net zero equipment is a worthy goal, but “it’s more important to do something now.”

Replacing the current five boilers with two energy-efficient models would be within the available funding and technology, she said. But that would require time-consuming redesign, Scaltreto reminded, unless the decision is to replace each unit.

Select Board members and Fidalgo stressed that closing the library is not an option even if that would save money by condensing construction time. However, Scaltreto said a phased closing could be considered, with the older and newer parts of the library outfitted in sequence.

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