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Going green to save green

School district putting money back in its pockets

COAL GROVE — With budget cuts always a looming threat in education, one local school district is curtailing the ever-rising costs of utilities to try and put money back into the district.

Dawson-Bryant Local School District Superintendent Dennis DeCamp knew that utility costs were causing the district to hemorrhage money about two years ago when he looked at July’s gas bill cost. Needless to say, a $19,000 gas bill in the summer did not bode well for what was to come in the winter months.

“We’ve got to do something,” DeCamp remembered saying.

Since stimulus money isn’t as easy to come by these days, with Ohio’s new biennial budget appropriating about $800 million less for education than last year, and the district losing about half a million in stimulus money for the 2012 school year, the district would have to find another way.

House Bill 264

At DeCamp’s suggestion, the school board agreed to take advantage of the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program, or House Bill 264.

According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, the Energy Conservation Program gives districts the ability to borrow funds without having to pass a ballot issue for the authority to borrow.

The main condition of borrowing money for energy improvements is that the resulting savings must be enough to pay back the loans.

This limited borrowing authority, according to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, has given districts the ability to save millions in utility bills and operating costs, and all at no additional taxpayer expense.

Cost and Savings

After interviewing different firms, DeCamp said the job was awarded to Sabo/Limbach Energy Services, which audited the district for several months to see where improvements could be made.

Mark Taylor, engineer and project development manager for the Columbus based company, said the audits led to a series of “financially viable energy conservation measures.”

Sabo-Limbach also had all of the savings calculations reviewed by both the Ohio School Facilities Commission and the Ohio Energy Office.

Based on the firm’s assessment and the ability to use HB 264, the district took out a $1.69 million dollar loan at about a 6 percent interest rate and to be re-paid over 15 years.

“If we can take those funds, reduce consumption and apply it to the buildings, voters have already approved the money,” Taylor said of the HB 264-approved loan.

“To help offset the interest (of the loan), we got a Qualified School Construction Bond,” DeCamp said.

QSCBs are authorized by the federal government through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

Once a year, DeCamp said, the district will request its reimbursement through the QSCB, which is about 5 percent.

Sabo-Limbach estimated that as a result of the improvements, the district could save about $161,700 in utility bill and maintenance costs annually.

“You’ve got to spend money to make money,” DeCamp said. “Once the loan is paid off, that’s money left in the general fund.”

Whereas the district was using in the neighborhood of 3,010,000 kilowatt hours of energy, after the improvements, the district is expected to cut out about 1,035,000 of those kilowatt hours.

That’s about 747 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Or 76,027 gallons of gasoline. Or 84 average homes of electricity. It would take a 145-acre pine forest to absorb that much CO2, Taylor said.

Also, as a part of the overall effort, Sabo-Limbach is helping the district apply for a one-time rebate from American Electric Power that could be as much as $140,230, pending the approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

DeCamp said he expected, once the project is complete, a summer month gas bill could be reduced from the $19,000 cost to only about $2,500.

The project

The first step the district took to improve efficiency was to replace failing water heaters at the middle and high school over the winter break last year. The previous unit was about 16 years old. With a newer model, the unit would heat water as needed, rather than continuously, said Taylor.

The lighting was also replaced in both the elementary and middle/high schools. The fixtures had not been replaced since the buildings’ construction and required inefficient, T-12 fluorescent bulbs. The new fluorescent bulbs, T-8, are smaller and more compact but are actually brighter, Taylor said.

About 5,000 lamps were replaced district-wide.

Another district-wide measure is installing new chiller air units to replace the older, 20-year old models. The new chillers capture the hot air that is expelled during the air conditioning cycle and recycles it back into the water system to heat the water.

Taylor said he expected the new units to use 70 to 80 percent less energy during the summer months, saving on natural gas costs. These are to be complete by mid-November and was funded by a separate ARRA grant and not included in the loan.

“We use the ARRA funds because the projects are so large, money is not in the general fund,” Decamp said. “We tried to be good stewards of our funds and use the federal funds allowed to us.

The kitchens in both buildings are now equipped with new range hoods and a system to manage the exhaust system.

When air is sucked out through range hoods, more air must then be heated or cooled, depending on the season, on the inside of the building. The older range hoods ran constantly, but the newer models will speed up and slow down based on usage.

“That’s where the real savings come from,” Taylor said.

The athletic field house at the middle/high school, which is used as a weight training facility, currently has no insulation in the roof. Insulation will be installed by the start of the cold season.

The bulk of the district’s energy project is the integration of a computerized control system that would manage the heating, cooling and lighting system.

With the click of a mouse, the entire district’s heating system could be shut down on an unexpected snow day, saving on the cost of heating an unoccupied building.

The system has timers set to coincide with the start of school and dismissals, and can even be tailored to specific areas of the schools, if only a few spaces need to be occupied.

Taylor said Sabo-Limbach will continue to configure the system after its installation is complete in mid-November so as to ensure that it is working efficiently, looking at natural gas and electric bills as well as building performance.

After the entire project is complete, Taylor said he would work toward getting the buildings Energy Star Certified.

DeCamp said he felt confident that the project was the right thing to do for the students in the district and will put back money into the classrooms without burdening tax payers.

“It’s more money that goes back to the kids,” he said. “To me, anytime you can save the taxpayers money, it is good for the taxpayers as well as the students.”