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South End schools seek $500K energy grant

School district electrician Art Pratt shows the difference between older T-12 bulbs with energy efficient T-8s.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
School district electrician Art Pratt shows the difference between older T-12 bulbs with energy efficient T-8s.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

At best, the South Whidbey School District will get almost $1 million for energy efficient upgrades and repairs to its six facilities.

At worst, the school district will pick and choose which projects it can afford, and still has an energy evaluation that can be used later.

The deciding factor will be a grant from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which the school board voted to apply for at its meeting earlier this month. An energy audit by Ameresco Quantum, a Renton-based energy efficiency consultant, prompted the request for $500,000 in grant funds.

The grant would help the district save more than $100,000 annually in maintenance and operations costs. Those savings, school district leaders said, would result in keeping teachers and programs.

“We need to start turning capital money into operational money as soon as we can,” said Fred O’Neal, school board member.

The buildings may be brighter and warmer soon. Under the list of measures or projects that Ameresco’s advisors suggested, every building would get new, energy efficient lighting. Heating will be repaired and updated at the elementary, middle and high schools. The single-most expensive piece will be a new heat control system for the high school gym at an estimated $286,000. One of Ameresco’s representatives said when their technicians visited the gym to test its heating, they noted students were wearing jackets. A new heat pump would solve chilly workouts, Ameresco proposed, at a cost of more than $142,000. By installing a central thermostat at the high school, heating in the classrooms and frequently used areas can be controlled more effectively by maintenance staff and lower costs.

“It’s not just cash savings,” O’Neal said. “It’s making a more pleasant learning environment for our students.”

The boiler controls at Langley Middle School are listed for an upgrade at almost $20,000. Neil Bavins, an Ameresco representative, said the school’s boilers were “operating very poorly,” after they were tested and data was analyzed.

“It allows us the ability to get control of the buildings,” Bavins said.

The South Whidbey School District spent about $20,000 on the audit by Ameresco. The original contract was for more than $50,000, but Ameresco’s representatives said time constraints limited the extent of its surveys, and some tests were either excluded or delayed. Bavins told the school board part of the reason is the company’s extensive history with other school districts, and that they know which systems yield higher cost-benefit ratios.

“We have a pretty good handle on the big stuff,” said Bavins, who noted there are more than 100 heating systems at the high school.

As part of the financing plan, the school district will front a $200,000 down payment should the grant be approved. More than $145,000 would be recouped through incentive programs by Puget Sound Energy, the energy supplier for the South Whidbey School District.

“We don’t have to go and ask the taxpayers for levy money or bond money. This pays for itself out of the costs of the energy savings,” said Board Member Damian Greene, who proposed the energy audit prior to being elected to the school board. “No matter what happens, we have a road map to the future.”

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