Androscoggin County commissioners balk at price of HVAC upgrades

Aug. 5 — AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission was struck by sticker shock Wednesday when it saw a threefold increase in costs to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for the courthouse and jail.

A study conducted in 2019 cost the HVAC renovations at the aging facility $2 million. The cost presented Wednesday was $6.47 million, $1 million more than County Administrator Larry Post estimated two weeks ago.

Post gave two reasons for the increase: the increase in construction costs and the addition of central air in the building. Central air was not included in the 2019 estimate.

The money for HVAC renovations would come from the $22 million the county would receive under the federal US Rescue Plan Act.

The need to update the system has been discussed for the past two years, but the magnitude of the project revealed to the commissioners shocked them. The commissioners only realized Wednesday night that the project involves upgrading the HVAC system at the Emergency Management Agency in the basement of the Central Fire Station at 2 College St. in Lewiston.

The commissioners questioned whether they could legally spend county bailouts on a building owned by the City of Lewiston.

Commissioners Noel Madore of Lewiston and Terri Kelly of Mechanic Falls urged the board to return the item for discussion at a workshop with someone from Allied Engineering, who drafted the proposal.

“We don’t need to be in a rush to do this, especially considering the cost,” Madore said.

Lewiston Commissioner Roland Poirier added that the board needed to understand the scope and depth of the project.

Although a decision on that project was delayed, the commissioners approved the financing of five projects with rescue funds.

The first on the list was $291,366 for 24-hour prison medical coverage. The province offers only 12 hours a day.

“We are the only prison our size that does not have 24-hour care,” said Prison Warden Major Jeffrey Chute.

The county jail recently received a perfect score on its biennial state inspection, but the report noted the lack of 24-hour health care for inmates.

The prison is required to transfer inmates to a hospital emergency room outside office hours. Round-the-clock medical care would reduce that need.

“There’s a risk that no one is around at night,” Chute said.

After questioning whether the medical service could be offered for less money, Wales Commissioner Isaiah Lary wanted to postpone the vote on the proposal until after the budget committee had considered it, as it would not start until January 1. felt it was necessary and voted 6-1 to approve the spending request.

The commissioners voted 5-2 to temporarily spend up to $50,000 on a trial assistant in the district attorney’s office to help with the backlog of the case caused by the pandemic, which closed the court for several months from jury trial .

Andrew Boulanger, who was hired as a trial assistant last November, recently passed the Maine bar exam and is awaiting a Massachusetts background check to complete the trial and be sworn in as a lawyer. With the money, Boulanger can continue to work as a trial assistant in the meantime. Lary and Kelly opposed the measure.

Employees of the province will receive a bonus for working during the pandemic. Each full-time employee receives a $5,000 bonus, while part-time employees receive a pro-rata bonus if they have worked more than 400 hours. Lary was the only commissioner to oppose the $557,500 for the bonus after his colleagues did not support his amendment not to award the bonus to elected officials, such as the sheriff, the registry of probate and the county administrator.

Provincial commissioners do not receive the bonus.

The board supported two other spending plans: up to $75,000 for new computer software for the treasurer’s office and $173,134 for estate office renovations.

Treasurer Clarice Proctor said Androscoggin County is the only East Coast county to use a software system designed for school systems. Reporting grants don’t handle well and databases can’t be shared or combined with each other.

Legacy funds would pay for new floors, staff workstations, shelving, a new court camera system and the removal of a safe.

Both proposals passed a 6-1 vote with Lary against.

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