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Why do we need an Air Quality project?

Why does our current ventilation system need to be upgraded?

One of the most important things we have learned from the world’s experience with Covid-19 is that this virus is spread mainly through aerosol dispersion – droplets transmitted from an infected individual into the surrounding air which other people then breathe.  Transmission is reduced when we wear masks, are socially distanced and have good ventilation.  Examples of good ventilation include being outdoors, being in a room with the windows open, having an air ventilation system in a building which brings outdoor air (“make-up air”) into the system and adequately filters any air being recirculated.  Our heating system does not incorporate make-up air and does not have adequate filters — our building has no ventilation.  It just recirculates the same air over and over.   (Note: older buildings can leak outside air into the building and even that is not enough outside air to provide adequate ventilation.  Because of all of the insulation work that has been done on our building air leakage is minimal.)

Will the new ventilation system prevent the transmission of the virus?

There is no one remedy that can guarantee a person 100% safety from becoming infected by the virus.  All of the recommendations by health experts can only decrease the likelihood of becoming infected.  Early in the pandemic, experts were stressing the need for good personal hygiene – washing hands, sanitizing commonly touched surfaces, avoiding touching face – all procedures that help a person avoid the common cold or seasonal flu.  The CDC and others now recognize that Covid-19 (along with other airborne diseases) is primarily transmitted in the air – which reinforces the need for make-up air and air filtration.  Building codes have long recognized the need for incorporating good ventilation (make-up air and filtration) in buildings.  Our heating system was “grandfathered” under these codes.  However, should we do any work on our current heating system we would be required to bring the system up to code.  Proper ventilation (make-up air and filtration) would make the building significantly safer from Covid-19 and other airborne diseases than it currently is.

For additional information on the importance of building air quality, see the following references:



State of Vermont:

Are we required to fix our ventilation system before we open the building?

We are not “required” to fix the ventilation system in order to open our building.  However, our current system is not within the current air quality guidelines and code (lacks make-up air and proper filters).  If any work is done on the ducts or the heating units we must upgrade to code.  As part of establishing a plan to improve air quality, potential contractors indicated that any asbestos present must be removed prior to their working on the system. It has long been suspected that the tape on the ductwork was asbestos.  The tape was recently tested and the results indicate asbestos is present.  We are required to remediate the asbestos and in doing that work it will be necessary to bring our heating system up to code.

There is strong evidence that proper air quality (ventilation and filtration) can reduce the risk and slow the transmission of infectious airborne disease.  Addressing the air quality now will help reduce the future transmission of airborne infectious diseases.  See above FAQs and references.

Why can’t we just open all of the windows?

We can open the windows when the weather cooperates, but not all year round.  However, using open windows as a source of ventilation doesn’t assure uniform improvement in inside air quality and introduces outdoor contaminants such as pollen and air pollutants and bypasses any filtration.


What changes are being recommended as a part of the air quality project?

The changes being recommended are intended to significantly improve the air quality throughout our building.  Air quality will be improved by providing ventilation to all areas of the building.  Currently the air in the Sanctuary, Vestry, Fireplace Room, Kitchen and Preschool Room only recirculates and there is no makeup air included (exchange of outdoor and indoor air) and there is inadequate air filtration.  There is no air recirculation, ventilation nor air filtration in the 1984 office and classroom addition.

The proposed project for the Sanctuary/Vestry areas includes replacing the heating ducts in the basement, redesigning the ducts to include makeup air and improved filtration.  Heat Recovery Units (HRVs), which will provide makeup air (while heating/cooling the air using exchangers for energy efficiency), will be used to add outside air to the Sanctuary/Vestry air systems and to spaces in the 1984 addition.

Is there a difference between the sanctuary/vestry areas and the 1984 office and classroom addition?

Yes, the older part of the building (built in 1865) has two forced air heating units that provide heat and they do not provide any ventilation – they only recirculate the existing indoor air.  The new addition is heated by a boiler system which provides baseboard heating – there is no ventilation, there is no air recirculation and no air filtration in the offices and classrooms.

Standalone HEPA air purifiers are currently being used in the various spaces where staff and volunteers work.  The Sanctuary and Vestry spaces would require 15 -20 of these standalone units in order to adequately filter the air – and these units are noisy.

Will the proposed ventilation plan address the 1984 office and classroom addition?

The plan proposes to install Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) units in the nursery, kitchen and the Children’s Chapel.  These individual units bring in outside air and discharge inside air efficiently.

Is there asbestos in our heating system?

It has long been suspected that the tape used at the joints of the ducts in the heating system contained asbestos.  Various places on the heating system have been tested and the results are positive for asbestos.  As long as the tape is not tampered with there should not be an issue with the air.  Asbestos abatement is complicated and expensive.  We have been meeting with asbestos abatement companies and expect to receive bids from 3 companies for the removal and/or encasement of any asbestos related to the heating system.  As mentioned in an earlier answer – any work on the ducts or heating system will require us to upgrade our system to include makeup air and better filtration.  To learn more about asbestos click here  here

Why must our asbestos be removed?  Aren’t churches exempt?

  • Churches are not exempt from mitigating health hazards.
  • Exposure to asbestos fibers is a health hazard (see below), especially for children, and is controlled by legislation within schools. (Please note upon further research into the regulations it appears Sunday schools are not included in the regulation.) 
  • The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) applies to public and private non-profit elementary and secondary schools.  Click here for overview of asbestos in schools.
  • In Vermont a renovation of a Rental, Public or Commercial Building would require:
    1. Before renovating a building, an inspection is required and must be conducted by a Vermont-certified asbestos inspector.
    2. Follow all asbestos-related requirements.

If the inspector finds ACM (asbestos-containing material) in the building:

    • The ACM must be removed by a Vermont-certified asbestos abatement contractor before the renovation.
    • The abatement contractor will need to notify the Health Department and the EPA before the project to get a permit from the Health Department.
    • If the inspector does not find ACM in the building, you can proceed with the project.

To read a summary of Federal, Vermont and the City of Montpelier regulations regarding asbestos and ventilation click here.

Why is outside air required for ventilation? Aren’t churches exempt?

  • In order to eliminate the asbestos, the existing ducts must be removed. This would be considered ‘renovation’ of the ductwork and therefore triggers the Vermont Energy Code, which requires that outdoor air be supplied for health.
  • Churches are not exempt from the requirements of the Montpelier Building Codes, especially as public buildings, which offer spaces for rental to the public.
  • Churches are only exempt from portions of the Zoning Ordinance, which determines where specific building types can be developed. Specifically, churches can only be regulated by zoning “…with respect to location, size, height, building bulk, yards, courts, setbacks, density of buildings, off-street parking, loading facilities, traffic, noise, lighting, landscaping, and screening requirements …”

To read a summary of Federal, Vermont and the City of Montpelier regulations regarding asbestos and ventilation click here.

How long will it take to complete the air quality project?

The project could take several months because it has to be done in phases (using several different contractors/specialists): plan and design, emptying the Vestry basement, asbestos abatement,  replacement of ductwork, and installation of energy-efficient ventilation equipment.  All phases depend upon the availability of contractors and materials.  Schools and other organizations all over the state (country and world) are doing similar projects.

 Why can’t we take care of the asbestos problem immediately?

As long as the tape is not disturbed there is no immediate danger from the asbestos.  The ducts should not be removed until there are new ducts ready to be installed.  Different contractors would be involved because of special skills and equipment required for duct/asbestos removal.  In addition, because of all of the ventilation work that is now going on within Vermont and across the country there are shortages of materials.  We would not want to remove the existing ductwork without having the new ductwork ready to install immediately.

To add to the complexity of the duct removal, the current ducts were apparently installed when the building used coal as a source of heat.  These ducts were designed to handle air that circulated without fans (which the current system has) and are not sized properly for our current furnaces — the ducts need to be resized for current and future use.


How much is this going to cost?

At the moment the best guess is in the range of $250,000.  We will know more as we obtain bids for various phases of the project.

The first step in determining how much the project will actually cost is to design the new ventilation system – design will cost approximately $40,000.  Once the design is completed then bids can be requested for the new ducts and the HRVs.  The abatement of the asbestos also has to occur prior to this work – bids for the abatement are currently being solicited.  We cannot remove the asbestos and the existing ducts until the new ducts are ready to be installed.  There is also the issue of the availability of materials – there is currently a significant demand for ventilation materials. Timing will be critical as this project has lots of moving parts.

How are we going to pay for the ventilation project?

Options are being considered which include grants, loans, UCM Long Term Invested Funds, a capital campaign or some combination.  Efficiency Vermont has some grant funds available to help pay for a portion of the cost of the Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRVs) units.  Additional grants might be available but additional research is needed.


Who is CX Associates?

CX Associates is an energy engineering consulting firm in Burlington, VT.  They provide energy efficiency engineering services for a range of markets from healthcare to education.  Eveline Killian, an Associate Principal of CX, toured the church building on Feb. 11, 2021 with Paul Ohlson, Barbara Conrey and Allen Clark.  Her report on her initial walk-through of the building can be found here.

Note: In the introduction, “… toured the building with three members of the Board of Trustees” is incorrect and they are identified above.

The CX Associates report states on page 3 that the design and installation of 4 HRVs (basement) only costs $30,000 to $40,000 and not the estimated $250,000 that has been discussed.  Why not go with the $40,000 option?

The $40,000 estimate on page 3 is only for the cost and installation of the four HRV units in the basement.  This assumed that the current ductwork could be used.  Additional costs for this project include: design work ($40,000), asbestos removal (estimates being obtained), complete replacement of existing ductwork (can’t obtain estimates until the design work is completed), purchase and installation of additional HRV units for classrooms/offices, modifications in furnaces for installation of Merv 13 air filters and various “controllers” to run the entire system.

What was the evaluation of our existing heating system by  CX Associates?

  • “…Efficiency Vermont further recommended installing a ventilation unit that can supply 1250 CFM of outside air, but it is unsure if this value is based on maximum occupancy or building area.”
  • “ The existing ductwork is more than 70 years old, is dirty and is sealed with asbestos tape…”
  • “As the existing equipment does not bring fresh air into the building, pre-pandemic CO2 levels were measured at over 3,000 ppm toward end of the second Sunday church service and 4,000 ppm toward end of a (full house) 2-hour choral concert. This is an indication that, even without a pandemic, the building and its occupants would benefit from ventilation air.”

Why are Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels important in measuring air quality?

The measure of CO2 levels is not the primary means of measuring air quality but rather measures the reduction of fresh air.  The higher the levels, the less fresh air is available in an occupied space.  To read more from the CDC about CO2 click here.

What were the key recommendations from the CX Associates Report?

    • “…CX Associates calculated the minimum airflow requirement of each proposed HRV using the maximum space occupancy levels, space square footage, and ASHRAE Standard 62.13 minimum ventilation requirements.”
    • “recommend installing Merv 13 air filters…”

To read the report click here.

What is the Long Term Invested Fund and how can it be used?

What is the Long Term Invested Fund (LTIF)?

Section 9.1.3 of the 2013 UCM Bylaws defines the “Long-Term Invested Fund as being made up of invested funds managed by a professional investment manager. Investments will be consistent with and will further the Mission.  Donors may designate gifts of cash or securities to go to the Long-Term Invested Fund.” Since 1898 UCM (at that time named The Church of the Messiah) members and non-members have made bequests in their wills for continued support of our church community.  These funds were originally referred to as Permanent Funds.

How much can we withdraw from the LTIF each year?

The UCM 12013 Bylaws state that we may withdraw up to 5% each year (we have used December 31 of the preceding year to establish the basis for the withdrawal) without a special membership vote.  If we wish to withdraw more than 5% at least 2/3 of the members present at a warned meeting must vote yes.  Traditionally 4% has been used to support building maintenance and projects each year and funds the Capital Fund budget.

When and how was the LTIF started?

The first bequest the church received was in 1898 when member George W. Reed died and left $1,000 to the church (which in today’s dollars is equivalent to a value of $32,175).  The next contribution was received in 1903 when Wilbur F. Braman, a non-member died and left $31,000 (today’s equivalent of $940,758).  While not a member he had contributed to the building of the church in 1865 and had sporadic involvement with the congregation over the years.  The largest bequest before 1991 was from Rebecca Wright (daughter of Rev. J. Edward Wright, the church’s first minister) for $63,615 (today’s equivalent of $508,641).  One of the smaller bequests for $500 was contributed in 1913 by Abraham Long who designated that the “income to be used for whatever purpose necessary”.

Over the years a number of bequests were designated as “funds” (Clarke Fund, Blanchard Fund, Bisbee Fund, etc.) and then, over time, they were grouped together as “other funds” under the broader umbrella of “Permanent Funds”.  We currently have two other funds that are separate from the LTIF – the Wyman Trust Fund and the Keve Fund.  In the past we have had “Donor-Based Funds” for specific projects (The Fireplace Room and Bell Tower Room restoration projects).

To learn more about the bequests between 1898 and 1991 please click here.

Is there any indication in church records as to the original intent of what the funds could be used for?

After the 1903 Braman donation the congregation’s members elected three trustees to oversee the Permanent Funds and established bylaws as to the care and disposition of the funds.  The by-laws stated it was “declared to be the fixed policy of this Society that the income from such invested funds shall not be used for defraying the usual current expenses of the Church of the Messiah, except under the stress of need.”  The by-laws continue “such income shall be applied rather to improving the church edifice and to meeting unusual demands and to enlarging and extending the present scope of the work of the Church of the Messiah and of the Unitarian denomination”.

Besides the 4% annual withdrawal for support of building projects and maintenance what other projects have been supported by use of the Permanent Funds/LTIF?

Over the years the fund has been used to defray general expenses of the church (despite the original by-laws).  Examples of previous general expenses include: telephone company and water bill, removal of ashes from the furnace, safe deposit rental and cleaning of the vestry.  Major pre-1991 projects included: establishment in 1968 of a $100 per month pension for Minister Emeritus, Rev. Gerald R. Fitzpatrick; repairs to the steeple, the riverbank stabilization project and the heating system.

In 1983 $75,000 from the Wyman Trust Fund was used to jumpstart the 1984 Capital Campaign to support the 1984 offices/classrooms addition.

Have there been any major bequests since 1991?

Since 1991 there have been 10 bequests which have totaled $652,850.  The largest, $455,150 was in 2015 and was from the estate of Christina Jackman, widow of long time UCM Music Director.

What is the status of the UCM Planned Giving program begun in 2015?

 To date we have 18 pledges totaling approximately $450,000.  To find out more about the UCM Planned Giving program click here.


How does this impact “Building For the Future”?

BFF as proposed would have added space to our building — this air quality work was included within the BFF project. As part of the air quality work to add the make-up air we will be required to meet current Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) building codes.  The asbestos abatement would also be required if any work is done on the heating system ducts.

The BFF project included installing heat pumps.  Why are we not replacing our existing heating system with heat pumps while we are doing all of this work?

As proposed, the BFF project does include installing heat pumps to provide heat and cooling during the “shoulder” seasons – fall and spring.   We would still need backup heating support during the coldest winter months.  Including heat pumps in this project would entail additional costs in design, installation and time.  During the BFF design process, it was noted that the amount of electricity that is supplied to the building by Green Mountain Power probably is not adequate to manage the additional power required by the heat pumps; therefore, an additional power line would need to be added to the building – which again requires additional investigation, design, time and costs.

The work planned does not preclude later addition of heat pumps.  The design of the new ducts, which includes the makeup air and improved filtration, will be similar to what would be needed if we were to use heat pumps, pellet boilers, air conditioners, etc. in the future.

How will the acoustics of our Sanctuary be altered with this project?

We anticipate no change in the acoustics in the Sanctuary.  All of the ventilation work will be done in the basement.

Where can I find more information about the air quality project and the reopening guidelines?

We will be providing weekly updates in the Weekly Announcements.  Because this project is evolving quickly, the information will be updated on the UCM Air Quality Project page. You will also find all of the minutes from the Covid-19 Task Force here.  The various references that have been consulted for the project can be found under Reference Materials.

Check the references to review additional scientific evidence and recommendations that we need a ventilation system in our building.

If you have a question that is not answered here please email.