Polk Schools looking to save on energy

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Officials expect to take $1.5 million loan to pay for improvements

COLUMBUS — With aging buildings meaning high energy costs, the Polk County School system has decided to upgrade its facilities to eventually save money.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene recently presented a plan on how the district intends to find out how to make its buildings more energy efficient to the Polk County Board of Commissioners. Greene said that the requests for proposals went out on May 8, and a pre-bid meeting was held Monday to move forward with the project.

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Greene said performance contracting is allowed by statute, and uses guaranteed savings so the school system can find a way to upgrade its facilities.

“It does make sense for us,” Greene said.

The school system will contract with an energy services company, which will analyze all the district’s facilities and make recommendations on how to improve utility costs, including its electricity, water, natural gas, fuel oil and propane. Officials will then take out a loan to fund the improvements, and use the savings in utilities to make the debt service payments.

For example, if the company says the school system will save $100,000 per year and the savings is only $80,000, the company makes up the difference, Greene said.

The loan is expected to be approximately $1.5 million, to be paid over 15 years, but the exact amount of improvements needed is not yet known.

Greene recently asked county commissioners for their commitment to continue to fund the school system at the same rate, so the debt service can be paid through the savings.

Polk County Schools has 11 buildings, with some of those more than or approaching 100 years old.

Stearns Education Center is the oldest, built in 1917, with Tryon Elementary built in 1922. Saluda School was built in 1936, Sunny View School was built in 1956 and Polk Central Elementary School was built in 1959.

The school’s maintenance shop was built in 1950 and Forbes Pre-school was built in 1985. The county’s newest buildings are Polk County High School, built in 1992, Polk County Middle School and early college, built in 2005, and the bus garage, built in 2007.

Greene said the school system pays almost $700,000 a year in utility costs.

He said the plan is to have more energy savings than the company guarantees, so the loan for improvements can be paid off faster.

Improvements will likely include to indoor and outdoor lighting, building automation systems, improvements to the heating and cooling system, bathroom fixtures and occupancy sensors.

“Tryon Elementary and Polk Central Elementary Schools were designed as high schools,” Greene added. “The Sunny View boiler is from 1955. The newish high school has a 27-year old cooling tower.”

The school system plans to bring commissioners a resolution of support next year.