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Blue Ridge’s Schneider Elementary will soon see major improvements to its heating and cooling system.
At it's most recent regular meeting, the Blue Ridge School Board approved the $1.4 million purchase of a geothermal system to be installed at Schneider Elementary this summer.
Blue Ridge Superintendent Susan Wilson said the old HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system at Schneider Elementary is in “very bad condition.”
Representatives of Gorski Reifsteck Architects in Champaign did a Health Life Safety review at Schneider Elementary and told board members last month the current HVAC system at Schneider, in both the original building and the 1966 addition, would need to be replaced soon.
Jim Gleason, an engineer with Gorski and Reifsteck, brought three options to the board last week including geothermal, variable refrigerant flow (VRF), and four-pipe ventilators.
Gleason recommended the geo-thermal system and noted it would likely last a minimum of 50 years.
“If you’re making a long-term decision here, there’s no question the geo-thermal is the way to go,” he said.
The construction costs for each of the systems were estimated at $1,422,000, $1,401,000, and $1,362,000 respectively.
Blue Ridge Superintendent Susan Wilson said the VRF system is not really an option because of the lack of “head room” in the ceilings for installing the equipment. That left the board with two viable options but all of the members unanimously agreed on the geothermal system.
“While the installation cost is more for the geothermal, the life-cycle costs are substantially lower. Also, we anticipate significant energy cost savings with the geothermal system,” Wilson said.
Life cycle costs of each system were estimated at $3,588,000 for geothermal and $4,410,000 for the four-pipe ventilators.
Blue Ridge School Board President Bart Lytel said he was surprised by the minimal difference in the initial installation cost between the two systems.
“I expected to see a significant variance between the two systems. It’s quite shocking,” he said.
Wilson said the district would have to issue Health/Life Safety bonds to cover the cost of the work, which could potentially raise the Bond and Interest Rate about 18 cents.
She said the district could possibly draw up an agreement with the City of Farmer City regarding the TIF I District that would help to offset the bond payments. City officials and school board members were scheduled to meet early this week.
Wilson also indicated there could be money left over from the Mansfield campus construction project contingency fund.
Blue Ridge School Board member Paul Tobin suggested the board use the savings from reduced energy costs to go towards paying back the cost of the new geothermal system.
Currently, the district pays about $20,000 a month for energy costs for both the high school and elementary school buildings in Farmer City.
“I would like to see the savings on utilities not just get lumped into the General Fund or O & M Fund. It needs to be designed to pay this off somehow,” Tobin Said.
Lytel agreed and said while he wasn’t originally behind a geothermal system, after comparing the cost and benefits of the two, geothermal was the better long-term option.
“We made a commitment so far to make sure the things that we’re doing to the buildings we have are long-term. This is an investment in those school buildings to make sure we can continue to use them,” Lytel said.