KINGSPORT - The Model City is looking to spend $2.1 million on improvements to five city buildings, including the Civic Auditorium and City Hall, in an attempt to make them more comfortable and energy efficient.
In October, soon after John Campbell came on as Kingsport's new city manager, he inquired as to whether the city had undergone an energy audit. When the answer came back "No," Campbell enlisted the services of Energy Systems Group of Johnson City, saying he was familiar with their work with the Sullivan County school system.
ESG began with a feasibility study, a review of the city's operating expenses and a quick tour of five city buildings - City Hall, Civic Auditorium, Justice Center, Renaissance Center and the engineering building on Fort Henry Drive.
Russ Nelson, business development manager for ESG, said he looked at the skin of the building (windows, doors, insulation, roof), the electrical work, HVAC and water systems.
"A lot of what we found was pretty inconsistent ... comfort or lack of comfort in a lot of the spaces," Nelson said.
Some of the issues discovered during ESG's energy audit of the buildings include the need for new lighting (replacing old bulbs with new compact fluorescent ones) and toilet upgrades (low-flush toilets) in all the buildings; new windows in City Hall, the Civic Auditorium and the engineering building; and the replacement of the air distribution system at the Justice Center.
"The system just has basically a technology that was installed originally and hasn't proven out well. So a majority of the end devices on the system ... those aren't working right," Nelson said. "Most of the variable air volume boxes aren't working properly. It's very difficult to regulate the comfort in the Justice Center."
The report also found 15 of the 50 heat pumps at the Renaissance Center were down and needing to be replaced. Other work includes a renovated lobby at City Hall and computerized controls where operators can adjust the settings remotely.
Kingsport spends $293,889 a year on utility expenses, including $217,209 for electricity. According to the report, ESG guarantees a 36 percent energy savings, or roughly $105,800 a year on the city's utility bill. The total cost of the improvements will be $2.1 million and will be paid for by the projected savings in energy expenses.
"By using detailed engineering calculations on each building and based on that data and field measurements of equipment, that allows us to have accurate calculations (of the savings)," Nelson said.
Campbell said he thinks Kingsport cannot avoid the improvements.
"Amongst the city staff there has been a feeling that they've been told so many times we don't have any money and sometimes maintenance items have not come up like they should," Campbell said. "Some of it has to be ASAP in my opinion. I don't think we can go any longer."
Not only will the changes make the buildings more energy efficient, Nelson said the buildings would also be more comfortable to work in.
"The best projects ESG does aren't focused on energy or saving money, but trying to make the environment in the buildings appropriate," Nelson said.
In addition, Nelson predicts the improvements will also allow the city's maintenance department to be more efficient.
Kingsport has one maintenance worker for every 120,000 square feet of building space. The peer standard is 80,000 square feet per worker. ESG estimates the city will save $15,000 a year on a reduction in repair parts, maintenance materials, outside labor and overtime.
The BMA has approved the proposal in concept, and ESG is expected to return on March 20 with the final contract documents to be approved by city leaders. If approved, Nelson said there would a seven- to eight-month construction cycle to implement the improvements.