Vince Feidler, principal of the Ohio-based regional engineering firm Scheeser Buckley Mayfield, attended the Jan. 13 Upshur County Commission meeting to discuss the assessment the firm conducted on the courthouse’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

County commission considers replacing courthouse HVAC system

BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission learned there were several upgrades they could make to the Upshur County Courthouse’s existing HVAC system.

Vince Feidler, principal of the Ohio-based regional engineering firm Scheeser Buckley Mayfield, attended the Jan. 13 Upshur County Commission meeting to discuss the assessment the firm conducted on the courthouse’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

“One of the main goals was to look through the existing HVAC system, to see what was basically functioning properly, what was deficient and basically, what we can do to improve it, and with Greg’s [Greg Harris, facilities manager] help, that’s what we did,” Feidler said. “I put together recommendations, and I broke it out into a shopping list scenario, instead of just saying, ‘all of this will be this much’ because we all know that funding is limited.”

He outlined the three most important upgrades and changes that should be implemented first.

“One of the main items, in my opinion on here, is the existing boilers – they have seen their time,” Feidler said. “I don’t want to say they’re obsolete; they’re obviously working, but they’re not as efficient as the boilers you’ll see nowadays. These are probably around 80 percent efficient because boilers typically last 25 to 30 years, depending on how well they’re maintained and Greg’s [Harris] done a great job, but no matter how well you maintain anything that has a fire and condenses moisture, it’s just going to fail over time.”

He said the new boilers on the market can reach up to 95 or 96 percent efficiency, so the overall cost of installing them would be made up in operating costs.

“The cost to replace those boilers would be about $130,000 – don’t hold those numbers as gospel because there’s a plus or minus. Plus, the market is pretty flexible right now,” Feidler said. “Supply chain [issues] are driving costs up all over the place, but this is our best guess, and this should be number one priority, in my opinion.”

The engineering firm also recommended installing a redundant heating water pump next to the boilers.

“Typically, when you’re dealing with heating water systems in the middle of winter, you really don’t want it to go down and not have a backup,” Feidler said. “Even if you go back and look at the boilers, you don’t have just one boiler sitting there, chugging along. You have multiple, so if one goes down, you lost some capacity, but you didn’t lose your total heat for the building.”

The redundant heating water pump would ensure there was a backup if one of the pumps goes down.

“If you lose that pump, I don’t care if your boilers are working fine, you’re not going to get heat through the building,” Feidler said. “I think you’ve had an issue in the past where you’ve lost this pump and been without heat, so a lot of time, what you’ll see is you’ll have two pumps identical in size, and one would be sitting there standby, so if you need to pull maintenance on one, the other one continues running in the building and you see no disruption in service.”

The construction and installation required to replace the existing pump with two equally sized pumps, piped parallel, could cost $30,000. The third most important upgrade would be to enable full air-side economizer operation.

“It’s a lot of big fancy words to say, ‘allow for free cooling in the building,”’ Feidler said. “You have this big air handler that’s basically blowing air throughout the whole building and then in this air handler, you have what are called cooling coils that will cool the air. That’s what then gets sent down the ductwork to multiple spaces throughout the building.”

He said buildings like the courthouse have cooling needs throughout the year, even when it’s 20 degrees outside.

“What it does is it always maintains a constant 55-to-60 [degree] air supply going down the main duct throughout the whole building and before it gets dumped out through these little diffusers, there’s a device in the ceiling that reheats that air to basically meet whatever the thermostat says,” Feidler said. “What this air side economizer does is allows the unit to bring in whatever amount of outside air … to maintain a discharge air temperature of 55 [degrees], meaning you’re not using any mechanical cooling to condition your building anytime it’s below 55 degrees, whereas now you do.”

The cost of the economizer was estimated to be about $175,500. Other items listed on the evaluation included converting the existing air handling unit from constant air volume to variable air volume, which could cost $200,000; upgrading existing temperature control systems system, which could cost $15,000; and adding a system flush/chemical treatment, which could cost $7,500.

Upshur County administrator Carrie Wallace said the project would be evaluated during American Rescue Plan Act hearings.

“You still have to schedule your ARPA hearings; I don’t think those gentlemen are expecting an answer today,” Wallace said to the commissioners. “Of course, it’ll have to go out to bid and then you’ll get a more accurate number for what you’re really looking at, so this could increase or decrease and that’s all subject to the prices that the contractors put forth. My thought is that you’ll continue this discussion in your ARPA budget hearings.”

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