For schools, geothermal idea gains steam

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Randall Dunn of Capital Projects Solutions Inc. talks about the idea of using geothermal energy to heat and cool area schools.

The possibility of making real savings in energy costs for county schools was discussed at a July 28 meeting of the County commission's education committee. Geothermal systems could be used to heat and cool school buildings, according to commissioner Rocky Bowden and his guest speaker, Randall Dunn of Capital Projects Solutions Inc. This company specializes in management of construction projects, as well as the preparation of successful grant applications.

"Possibly we could get a lot of work done free," said Bowden, referring to government grants and stimulus money for using alternative energy sources.

Dunn has already looked at all the schools with maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis, and said, "It looks pretty good for most of the schools."

"I tried to get it (geothermal) done for the Forrest addition and for Oak Grove," said Bowden. "In those days the initial cost was extravagant."

"The cost is coming down," Dunn said. "There's a lot to be saved and a lot to be gained."

"The lifespan of the equipment is almost double," pointed out committee member Billy Spivey.

"You're not only saving money, but also making a good statement that we're trying to protect the earth," Bowden continued. "I'm very interested for all the county buildings. I'd like to invite our building committee to be present when Mr. Dunn gives his report."

Dunn promised to be "timely and accurate" with his report on which school buildings are the best candidates for conversion to geothermal heating and cooling.

The school buildings, built in different years, have a variety of heating and cooling systems. Some have ductwork, but others do not. The older Cornersville school is heated with propane.

"It should be interesting," said committee chairman Larry McKnight. "We'll schedule our next meeting around Mr. Dunn's report."

Capital Projects Solutions was called in to help with the new Music City Central bus station in Nashville, and managed to save $6.6 million for the transit authority by negotiating a reduction in the architects' fees and cutting over $5 million off the construction cost. The bus station opened on schedule.

"That's how we save the clients money," Dunn said proudly. "We have a pretty good track record of finishing on time and on budget. For every dollar in fees, we've saved our clients $25."

Spivey said that the Duck River Electric Membership Corporation's new Columbia District Office is a geothermal building, and Dunn added that a homeowner could save $1,600 to $1,700 per year on energy costs for a 2,100 square foot home.

Geothermal systems are already in use at schools elsewhere in the state.

According to The Murfreesboro Post, Rutherford County Schools started putting geothermal heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in newly constructed schools about three years ago.

Stewarts Creek Elementary and Middle schools, as well as La Vergne Lake Elementary have the systems in place.

Geothermal systems save money because they are some of the most energy efficient HVAC systems available, with a typical utility cost savings of up to 50 percent.

For example, Murfreesboro City Schools put a geothermal HVAC system in John Pittard Elementary School, and saw the school's heating bill cut in half.

Between August 2007 and February 2008, MCS spent an average of $29,774 to heat and cool Scales Elementary, which has the exact same square footage as Pittard Elementary and a traditional HVAC system. During the same period, the city school system only spent $14,093.27 at Pittard.

Broken down to average utility cost, it cost $0.1066 per square foot to heat and cool Pittard and $0.2251 per square foot to do the same at Scales.