Fairgrounds HVAC improvements pave way for mass vaccinations, other events

By 
Sam Klomhaus — Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
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Enterprise photo by Sam Klomhaus 

Park County Fairgrounds and Parks Director Morgan Squires explains the fairgrounds building’s new heating and cooling system, Wednesday.

Upgrades to the heating, ventilation and cooling system at the Park County Fairgrounds building have been completed just in time for the Park County Health Department to host its first mass vaccination clinic there.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said that, in addition to fulfilling a pressing need, the improvements will last for a long time into the future.

When everything shut down a year ago, people had nowhere to meet that was safe, according to Jim Baerg, a Livingston-based energy efficient building specialist and Desnick’s husband.

The swamp coolers that were previously ventilating the fairgrounds building were costly to run and kept breaking down, Park County Fairgrounds and Parks Director Morgan Squires said.

Also, the building was poorly insulated and leaked air, Baerg said.

The new airflow system includes three “heat pumps” which can heat and cool the facility as needed, Baerg said, and it seems to be working well so far. He said the system turns over the air twice per hour.

Baerg said the heat pumps have been positioned above where people would be in the building.

So far the heat pumps have been wonderful, Squires said.

There is also a filtration system that can filter out COVID-19 particles, Baerg said.

Squires added an additional filter will be able to remove particles such as dust from the parking lot.

Desnick said the new system can also more easily be transitioned to solar power if the county ever decides to go that route, and comes with lower expected maintenance costs.

“It’ll certainly be a much-improved space,” Desnick said.

The system’s first test will come Thursday as the Health Department is scheduled to hold a mass-vaccination clinic for frontline essential workers, with a total of about 570 shots expected to be delivered.

Park County allocated funding to the project because of the need for a mass vaccination space, Desnick said, which has now been accomplished.

Completion of the project has coincided with an increase in COVID-19 vaccine availability and the need for a large indoor space, Desnick said.

The Health Department has been using the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts for its vaccine clinics, which has worked very well, but the department has outgrown that space.

Desnick said it was important to perform the upgrades at the fairgrounds because there’s really no other space like it in the county.

Planning for the project started around late October or early November, Squires said, and conversations among the Health Department, Fairgrounds and Parks and the County Commissioners have been productive throughout the life of the project.

Desnick said planning the project was difficult because no one had ever dealt with COVID-19 before, and it was hard to figure out how the virus actually behaved or how to deal with it effectively. The project followed Center for Disease Control guidelines, which continue to be updated.

Although the project was hampered by some delays caused by material shortages and the weather, Squires said the project was completed pretty quickly considering the scale.

The initial cost of the project was about $75,000, according to Desnick.

Squires said she would expect a fairly significant return on that number fairly quickly.

Although the improvements came about because of the need for a mass vaccination space, Squires said the improvements will also help with the fairgrounds’ ability to hold events such as weddings.

Squires said the fairgrounds has had some other improvements in addition to the ventilation system like new tables and chairs to prepare for hosting more events.

It will probably take some time for the fairgrounds to get back to full event capacity, Squires said, especially because people are wary of COVID-19, but she’s trying to accommodate people and make everything as safe as possible.

Baerg said it’s still to be determined how many people can fit in the space safely, but it is at least 50 at a time.

Anyone thinking about hosting a large event should contact the Fairgrounds and Parks Department first, Squires said.

Squires said she thinks people will  move toward outdoor events in the near future, which is great, and she’s excited for people to be able to get together again.

“The real point is we’re about to be able to safely gather again,” Desnick said.