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BOE recommends geothermal system for new city school

CHRISTAN M. THOMAS • May 11, 2007 at 9:12 AM

KINGSPORT - Adding a geothermal heating and cooling system to the proposed elementary school in the Rock Springs community represents a larger cost up front but could save on energy and maintenance costs throughout the life of the system.

That's according to a report given by architects from Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon during a special called Kingsport Board of Education meeting Thursday.

After looking at the long-term savings and potential long life of the school, architects said they recommended the use of a geothermal system in the facility.

BOE members agreed and voted to recommend to the Kingsport Board of Mayor Aldermen that the new school should include a geothermal system.

"It sounds that the cost over the life of the geothermal seems to be pretty positive," said BOE President Dr. Randy Montgomery. "Even if you have to borrow money, you're going to come out ahead to some extent, plus the other impacts - environmental, noise."

Based on test borings and consultations with contractors, architects from BWSC said the approximate energy savings would be 17 percent when using a geothermal system versus a conventional HVAC system, or approximately $9,600 in the first year. Going geothermal would also represent a 29 percent maintenance savings versus a conventional system, or approximately $27,000 in the first year.

Total - including cost of equipment and adjusting for inflation - the 20-year useful life cycle cost of a geothermal system would be $3.52 million, while a conventional system would cost approximately $3.69 million. That's an approximate $170,000 savings over 20 years. BWSC said the payback period for the geothermal system would be approximately 12.9 years.

Project consultant Rick Russell said, based on the borings, estimates for the number of wells needed for a geothermal system had decreased significantly. Thus, the cost had also decreased. Original estimates put the number of wells needed at 270, while new estimates lower that number to approximately 175.

"You've been hearing $1.1 (million), but that $1.1 (million) has really dropped to about half a million," Russell said. "Part of that is because we lopped off close to 100 holes at $4,500 each."

The board also voted to recommend keeping a full-sized gymnasium in school plans.

As for the bottom line, the estimated construction cost given at the April BOE meeting came in at $14.6 million - without the geothermal system and large gymnasium. With new estimates, adding the geothermal system would raise the cost of construction to $15.1 million. Adding a larger gym would raise the cost to $15.5 million.

The original proposed budget for the approximately 90,000-square-foot elementary school was $14 million.

BOE member Pat Turner said, however, she thinks getting this size of elementary school for the new estimates was a bargain.

"I think we need to remind everybody that when we were looking at this as ‘someday we're going to build a new elementary school,' $17 million was the minimum amount we were seeing in the state to build an elementary school," Turner said. "For us to have the opportunity to get this kind of school for this price, to me, I feel really good about the whole idea.

"If we're going to do the whole thing, in all honesty, then I think we're going to have to ask the city for more money."

Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said, however, that approval from the city could be to "spend additional money" rather than to give additional money. Other possible sources could come from county school projects or state legislation.

Architects hope to have plans for the school to the state fire marshal by the end of May.

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