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These days, it’s more important than ever for commercial contractors to know who has money to spend on projects. Many traditional clients, such as restaurants and even office building operators, have been closed for long stretches of time. Even if clients need work done on their HVAC units, they lack the funds.

Government projects now seem more attractive. Contractors have said these projects are appealing because they only approve them with funding. Often, this comes from bonds issues. But governments are also funding projects through grants, and these projects include a mix of public and private facilities.

Workers install new equipment at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

BIG PROJECT, SHORT TIME: Workers hustle to make the deadline for installation of new HVAC equipment at the Tennessee Aquarium. The grant for the project gave a two-month timeframe for completion.

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga recently completed an HVAC upgrade project to improve indoor air quality. The Aquarium received funding from the Tennessee Community CARES Program grant by the Tennessee Department of Human Service. This program is a local response to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The Aquarium applied for a grant of more than $800,000.

The majority of the money was used to upgrade existing HVAC systems throughout the Aquarium campus. A total of 10 HVAC units were purchased. Eight were installed within the River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings. Two additional units were installed in the Aquarium’s ticketing center and administration buildings.

Workers install new equipment at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.

DEMANDING ENVIRONMENT: An aquarium comes with a very unique environment. This made for a complicated installation to match up with the facility’s existing infrastructure.

“These new units will increase the airflow and air quality within our buildings,” said Rodney Fuller, the Aquarium’s director of facilities and maintenance. “The units are equipped with ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light filters, which help disinfect the air.”

The grant came with some challenging stipulations. Thomas Benson, the Aquarium’s communications manager, said they received the money in October and had to finish the project by the end of the year. Management worried about the availability of off-the-shelf equipment given the demanding environment, Benson said. But facility management staff and an outside HVAC contractor were able to get the work done on time.


Safer Schools

Many of the grant programs available are for schools. For example, the Michigan Department of Energy, Climate, and Great Lakes now offers a grant program for schools to fund HVAC upgrades. Schools complete a survey of their building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system’s ability to reduce infectious aerosol transmissions throughout the facility.

A webinar is scheduled for February to explain the program and how to qualify for upgrade recommendations.

Schools that complete the survey are eligible to request free assistance with recommendations to reduce infectious aerosol transmission from an approved licensed HVAC specialist (or the school’s licensed HVAC contractor). The Western and Eastern Chapters of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) will help with completing the surveys and provide a free, one-hour HVAC consultation. Two school buildings per school district are eligible for assistance from the $300,000 program. Preference will be given to schools in low-income communities if demand exceeds available funding.

Nearly 60 school districts have participated in the program so far by completing a confidential survey to gather basic information about HVAC systems, recent improvements, and current needs at a total of 328 buildings. The compiled survey data indicates that the most common action schools have taken is to change air filters more frequently or upgrade to better filters. The most common desires for schools is to switch out filters for more effective models and perform full HVAC upgrades. The full results will be used to assess the overall status of Michigan schools’ HVAC systems and identify future program needs.


Protecting Those at Most Risk

Many states are providing grants to help nursing centers, which have been hit especially hard by COVID. More than a third of COVID deaths are linked to these facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control. State governments hope HVAC upgrades can help improve the safety of the residents.

For example, the North Dakota Department of Human Services provided $2.56 million for HVAC upgrades in the state’s long-term care facilities. The grants gave up to $40,000 to each facility to upgrade their HVAC systems. Like the Tennessee grants, North Dakota provided a short timeframe for getting the work done. The installation has to be finished by the end of December to qualify for the grant.

Some government entities also offered grants to help local businesses. In January, the city of Burlington, Vermont, launched a grant program to help area business install HEPA filters and treat indoor air quality for public spaces. This program is part of the city’s response to the newly recognized strain of COVID-19 that is considered more contagious. The HVAC upgrade program is funded up to a maximum of $25,000 for the purchase and distribution of standalone HEPA filters able to treat spaces up to 1,400 square feet.

This is the second time Burlington gave money to its business community for HVAC upgrades. In the fall, the city provided 50 grants through its Commercial Property Ventilation Upgrade COVID-19 Grant Program. The grants provided up to $500 toward improving ventilation in commercial spaces. The money went to air purification systems or to adding or upgrading HVAC systems.

Businesses that received money in the fall are ineligible for the new program. Only one HEPA filter will be made available per application for the first application period. Organizations with more than one location are eligible for one filter per location. Size of filter awarded will be based on square footage of space to be treated. If awarded a HEPA filter through this grant, the recipient agrees to place and use the filter daily in the space indicated on the application.

As the Burlington program shows, government bodies continue to unveil new funding programs.