If HVAC contractors want to find a new source of revenue, they should visit their local library. Not to check out a business book, but to check out the HVAC system. Libraries, like other large venues, now have funds available to upgrade their HVAC systems in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Much of this money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, which took effect in March. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received $200 million. This federal agency, founded in 1996, is the main source of federal support for libraries and museums across the country. According to the American Library Association, the $200 million is the largest single increase in funding in the agency’s history.

The money will be dispersed to the individual states based on each state’s population. Each state will receive at least $2 million. State library agencies can determine how that money is spent.

Cities are also deciding the best ways to spend money from the American Rescue Plan. Many are looking to make long-neglected repairs and upgrades to the HVAC systems at their libraries. For example, the city of Trenton, New Jersey, is spending $4 million on the Trenton Free Library, including a new HVAC system.


States Also Offer Funds

There is state money available as well. The Building Forward infrastructure grant program was made possible by the California Budget Act for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. It contains $439 million in one-time funds to create an equity-focused matching infrastructure grant program to support local library maintenance, capital projects, broadband and technology upgrades, and purchasing of devices. Individual grants are up to $10 million.

The grants are distributed by the California State Library. The program prioritizes local libraries in high-poverty areas of the state. It also prioritizes life-safety and other critical maintenance and infrastructure projects.

The preliminary application process started in September. The State Library will use this preliminary process to identify the types of projects that cities, counties, and districts intend to apply for. This information will be used to develop a full application, guidelines, training, and technical assistance.

Some of the money being spent on libraries comes out of a city’s general operating budget. The city of Pasadena, California, is investing millions of dollars in its library system, including money to replace the HVAC at several locations. These upgrades were identified in earlier study by outside consultants.


Library Boards Often Make Decisions

Many libraries are operated by a library board that operates independently of the city or county government. That was the case in Sheldon, Iowa. Its board put out bids for an upgrade of its HVAC system. Fred’s Plumbing and Heating, located in Hospoers, Iowa, had worked with several school districts and church boards. The firm works on non-residential buildings in a nine-county territory.

“This is the first library we’ve been involved in,” said commercial project manager Kris Falkena.

The entire process went smoothly. Falkena said it was pretty much the same as bidding on a school project. The board’s main concerns were to improve the heating and cooling, as well as adding more fresh air. The biggest challenge was sizing the system for a very large, 60-year-old building, Falkena said.

StudioGC, an architecture firm in Chicago, oversaw a recent HVAC upgrade for the New Lenox Public Library. Associate principal Chris Meadows said a pair of condensers had reached their end of useful life and struggled when the outdoor air temperature topped them. The project replaced them and simplified the piping, taking out some odd routing and angles. Finally, Meadows said, some sound louvers were installed to establish proper airflow to the condenser units.

“Pretty simple,” Meadows said. “Nothing interior to the building at all other than piping replacement.”