Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Energy 360 check exposes facility problems, costs at West Franklin

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 1/20/2014

POMONA — Though West Franklin patrons this summer turned down a bond issue to address facility concerns throughout the district, the problems remain with school board members convinced other financial options can help fix the situation.

To help address upgrade needs on every campus within the district, school board members brought in Energy 360 Solutions — a company that finds energy inefficiencies and other related problems in homes and buildings — to conduct an energy grade audit of the school district’s buildings and make a list of priorities of which issues should be addressed first, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said.

POMONA — Though West Franklin patrons this summer turned down a bond issue to address facility concerns throughout the district, the problems remain with school board members convinced other financial options can help fix the situation.

To help address upgrade needs on every campus within the district, school board members brought in Energy 360 Solutions — a company that finds energy inefficiencies and other related problems in homes and buildings — to conduct an energy grade audit of the school district’s buildings and make a list of priorities of which issues should be addressed first, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin superintendent, said.

“[Energy 360] looked at the electrical systems, they looked at window systems, plumbing systems, heating and air conditioning,” he said. “They put together some, at this point, cost estimates as to what they thought those various infrastructure problems would cost to fix.”

The comprehensive project listed 20 projects by priority and cost estimates and was presented to the board Jan. 13, Bradbury said. The cost of completing all 20 projects listed was between $4.3 million and $5.4 million, he added.

“Appanoose Elementary HVAC upgrades were at the top of the list,” he said. “No. 2 was district-wide plumbing retrofits ... the electrical upgrades at the high school, Williamsburg Elementary and the list continues.”

Energy 360 broke the projects into three categories for cost comparison, Bradbury said. The first group was the comprehensive group that suggested fixing all 20 projects. The second group was an intermediate project that listed 12 priority projects instead of 20, with a cost between $2.2 million and $2.8 million, he said.

“The last group was limited to immediate projects,” he said. “Those total $1 to $1.4 million, and there were nine projects.”

Some, but not all of the projects would result in cost savings, Bradbury said. The next step is a full investment grade audit that would require a $20,186 investment from the board, he said, and from there, the board would work together with Energy 360 to narrow down the list of projects to fit the board’s budget.

A list of the top 10 priorities Energy 360 listed, beginning with the most immediate, included: Appanoose Elementary HVAC upgrades, district-wide plumbing retrofits, electrical upgrades at the high school, electrical upgrades at Williamsburg Elementary, electrical upgrades at the north building attached to the gym at the high school, Internet-based thermostats at the Williamsburg shop building, Internet-based thermostats at the district office, auxiliary gym control upgrades, district-wide high bay and parking lot lighting and new window installation at Williamsburg Elementary.

The board voted this month to table moving forward with the full investment grade audit until its February meeting.

“I thought it was very informative and probably right on, on some things I had in mind that needed to be done first,” Jackie Robbins, school board president, said. “I think as a group we’re going to have to discuss which level we’re going to need to look at.”

The third option, with a cost between $1 million to $1.4 million, seemed like the most doable, Robbins said.

“I thought the third option was something we could live with and something we could build on from there,” she said. “I think it helped prioritize and pretty much was in accordance with what we felt were priorities. It just gave us a better a direction and confirmed I guess where we were heading.”

By choosing not to use any of the money in the board’s reserve funds, Robbins said, she would prefer to finance the projects if the board decides to move ahead with Energy 360.

“I’d prefer not to have a bond issue,” she said. “I think there’s other ways we can actually do this. [Energy 360] did give financing also at the meeting. I feel like this is more realistic for our district and would not stretch us out so far. As we get some of these things in place, then we can get on the bigger items like eventually putting AC in the main gym, some of those things.”

Being able to tailor some of the projects to what the board feels are the most urgent is something that appealed to her, Robbins said.

“I think it gives us a better plan to follow and different ways we could go,” she said. “I felt like they understood that we’re not a wealthy district and we’re looking for a way to solve our problems the most efficiently.”

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