Committee recommends board put geothermal on hold

Friday, November 13, 2009

Several members of Marshall County's School Board on Monday voted to recommend waiting until next year to apply for a grant to help fund retrofitting schools for geothermal heating and cooling.

"It seems like we're getting in on this late," school board member Craig Michael said after noting grants are to be awarded in December. "I've found that sometimes it's better to stand still instead of go forward or back."

Maintenance Committee Chairman Randy Perryman said he's not sure that's the last deadline. Perryman also said County Commissioner Rocky Bowden advocates geothermal heating and cooling of schools.

A geothermal system operates with air ducts that go into the ground to absorb the constant cave-like temperature that's about 50 degrees year-round. Air from a building is pumped through those ducts and so it's easier to cool a building in the summer when the cave temperature absorbs the building's heat. Conversely, it's easier to heat air from 50 degrees to 70 in comparison to colder air during the winter.

"It's all to be retrofitted here," Michael said, since the county has no geothermal system. "It would be better to do it for new buildings, but we're not doing that."

Harris Middle School in Shelbyville was built recently with a geothermal system.

School Board members on the Maintenance Committee recognized there would be cost savings with a geothermal system, but questioned how long it would take to recover a current investment through savings in the future.

School Board member Dee Dee Owens agreed the system "makes sense," and that it's a "good opportunity," but seemed to agree that it may take more than a few weeks to prepare a grant application.

Schools Director Roy Dukes agreed.

"Geothermal sounds good," Dukes said, "but can you get all that you need for a federal grant by December?"

Michael: "We got the information too close to a deadline. I don't want to be rushed."

There also seemed to be a consensus that installation of a geothermal system for a new building would be more cost effective than retrofitting an old building.

"I'd rather flip a coin" to make the decision, Michael said to emphasize that he didn't believe he had enough information for a decision. "I'd have a better chance of being right."

Michael moved to have the committee recommend to the school board that the system find out if it's something to pursue in 2010. The committee vote was unanimous.

An early public mention of geothermal units was at a July 28 meeting of the county commission's Education Committee.

Also Monday this week, school maintenance was discussed, starting with replacement of light bulbs at a school before a Thanksgiving dinner is served.