The Piscataquis County Jail in Dover-Foxcroft. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County’s commissioners decided Tuesday to shift millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief money from an emergency radio overhaul to HVAC system upgrades at the jail.

Piscataquis County has about $2.75 million of its $3.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds left, though it’s unclear whether it will use all of the remaining funds for the HVAC project.

Joshua York, the county’s head of maintenance, told commissioners at a meeting earlier this month that HVAC upgrades were estimated to cost $1.2 million a few years ago. During a meeting Tuesday, he said the project is now closer to $1.7 million.

Tuesday’s meeting provided some clarity on the cost of the HVAC upgrades, though not final figures, and questions remain about the fate of the overhaul to fix chronic radio problems for emergency responders. Commissioners initially planned to use ARPA funds on that project, estimated to cost $5 million for the infrastructure and in the works since 2020. But HVAC issues have become unavoidable, they said.

The Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency recently requested a little more than $5 million in congressionally directed funding to handle the radio project.

The $1.7 million estimate for HVAC upgrades came from an HVAC company, but York recommended the county hire an engineer to provide an expert opinion on the work that needs to be done and prices.

Separate from the jail in Dover-Foxcroft, York suggested putting heat pumps into the district attorney’s office. Putting that project out to bid to companies that specialize in the technology might generate more affordable options than the HVAC company, he said.

“We definitely have some issues that should be addressed, even if we don’t do everything,” he said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to hire an engineer, though it’s unclear whether they will seek bids or work with an engineer from past projects. York said he will explore options. 

Commissioners did not mention the radio project at the meeting, nor did they say that they were shifting the funds from one major project to another. After the meeting, Chairman Andrew Torbett confirmed ARPA dollars would fund the HVAC upgrades.