Energy-savings proposed for county schools

Friday, April 2, 2010

Several county commissioners last week considered a proposal that would make energy-saving upgrades to the school buildings without costing any extra taxpayer dollars.

Kirk Whittington of Siemens Building Technologies Division, who has been working with the school board for months, made a presentation during the County Commission's Education Committee meeting in the Courthouse Annex on March 25.

"We're not asking for any capital dollars," Whittington emphasized. "You get improvements for the schools without asking the taxpayers for money. There is no up-front cost."

Six of the nine school board members attended the meeting, and school board member Kristen Gold told commissioners that Whittington had worked closely with maintenance supervisor Sheldon Davis to list the immediate needs at the school buildings.

"It's not a wish list," Gold said. "These are things we really need."

Whittington agreed: "There's need; there's opportunity for you to save money."

Education Committee Chairman Larry McKnight asked what other districts Siemens was working for. Siemens is working with the Metro Nashville schools, the Memphis schools, Sumner County schools, Middle Tennessee State University and Tennessee Tech, Whittington replied.

Siemens does have competitors, Whittington said, claiming that none could match them for longevity and depth of experience. Siemens has had an office in Nashville for over 30 years.

"We have 80 people in the Nashville office to give you service and support," Whittington said.

"Personally, I think this is an great opportunity to upgrade our facilities and create a better learning environment at no cost to the taxpayer," said school board Building Committee Chairman Randy Perryman.

"We've thought about this and looked at this," said school board member Craig Michael. "This is all money that's going to have to be spent. It all has to be done. It's just a question of when. This is about investment spending, versus paying the utility bills."

"We need to ask the right questions and get everything in writing," concluded McKnight. "I recommend one person from the County commission and one from the school board work out the details and bring it back to us."

"We need to move as fast as we can to gather more information," agreed Michael.

"We should be ready to meet again in two weeks," McKnight concluded.

What Siemens is proposing to do for the Marshall County School System is an "Energy Savings Performance Contracting Program." This means that energy-efficient facility improvements are installed with no up-front costs and are paid for out of guaranteed savings from the existing operating budget.

Changes that are proposed to reduce utility costs include: energy-efficient lighting fixtures; water conservation measures, with aerators on faucets and toilets that use less water; and fans to prevent the collection of hot air at high ceilings. Energy-efficient boilers are proposed for two buildings, and better dishwashers for three.

Whittington explained that the schools' energy budget (currently $1.4 million per year) would stay the same, but instead of all of it paying for electricity, gas and water, some of it would be paying off the debt that had been incurred to pay for the energy-efficient improvements that Siemens would make.

That's called "budget neutral." In the case of Marshall County, the school system would be financing just over $2.6 million, and paying it back over nearly 11 years.