Town Meeting voters on Monday unanimously approved allocating community preservation funds that will clear a path for replacing the Bedford Free Public Library’s ailing heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system.
Facilities Director Ron Scaltreto said in an interview before the vote that he expects to invite bids on the project in March when contractors’ interest and prices should be more favorable. Work will begin as soon as possible after the contract is awarded, he said.
The $1,457,867 comes from the community preservation fund’s unexpended balance account, and should be more than enough to complete the long-planned project.
Select Board member Margot Fleischman, town government’s most knowledgeable source for community preservation issues, summarized the events that led to a need to amend the fiscal year 2024 expense budget with supplemental funding.
Since the original library building is more than 50 years old, it qualifies for community preservation support, which by law is limited to three categories: historic preservation, affordable housing, and recreation/open space. That funding source was first suggested by Assistant Town Manager Amy Fidalgo several months ago.
Fleischman told Town Meeting that rehabilitation of building systems in a historic structure is an eligible expense.
The HVAC system, installed with the library expansion in 1998, has reached the end of its life expectancy, Fleischman reported. Liabilities are wide-ranging: pneumatic controls that are obsolete, a return fan with a bearing that cannot be replaced, a chiller that runs all summer because once off, it may not restart. She also said the system has to commit to either heat or air conditioning, once per season.
Fleischman traced the events that led to the supplemental request. The original project was upgraded to equipment with greater energy efficiency after the town adopted its net zero policy, but a vote on the $2.5 million project was delayed a year when COVID-19 compromised the 2020 Town Meeting.
The expense was approved in March 2021, and the town awarded a design contract in February 2022. But when subcontractors’ estimates were reviewed, Fleischman said, “they exceeded the available budget for the entire project.”
That budget was based on pre-pandemic construction and materials costs. Prices go up every year, Fleischman said, but in 2022 historic inflation combined with supply chain problems and other pass-through costs.
“Bedford was far from unique in having to deal with this problem,” she said.
Town officials considered available courses of action.
“If we create the system that’s there now, we would have to go out to bid for a new design and set back the project significantly. The traditional system could turn out to be as costly without the energy efficiency benefits,” Fleischman said.
She added that some replacement parts are no longer available. If nothing is done, she said, eventually the chiller will fail.