ROGERSVILLE — The new HVAC systems at both Hawkins County high schools will be advertised for bids, as per the direction of the Hawkins County Commission, although the timeline and the specs for the projects are still to be determined.

By a single vote at its Oct. 26 meeting, the Hawkins County Commission rejected a request from the Board of Education to move forward with the sale of a $9.6 million bond to pay for Trane to complete HVAC replacements at both high schools, as well as install a new cooling tower at Mount Carmel Elementary.

The vote was 10-9, but a total of 11 votes, which is a simple majority of the 21-member commission, was needed to approve the resolution.

Some commissioners opposed to the bond issue said they felt the cost quoted by Trane was too high for the HVAC projects and they wanted to see it advertised for bids.

Later in that meeting, however the commission voted 13-6 to move forward with a $5 million Tennessee Energy Efficient Schools Initiative (ESSI) loan at 0.05% interest.

Hawkins County was approved for that low interest state loan thanks to guarantees by Trane that energy savings from a district-wide refit to LED lighting would save $300,000 annually and pay for the loan.

A little over half of that $5 million loan will go toward offsetting the cost of the impending HVAC projects at Cherokee and Volunteer high schools.

There is a video of the County Commission’s entire pre-vote discussion in the online version of this article at www-timesnews.net

No new taxes would be needed before 2036

Last year Trane conducted an energy savings survey for the entire Hawkins County school system and came back to the BOE with a recommended $18 million in projects. Many of those projects, including the HVAC systems at both high schools, have been on the BOE’s capital projects wish list for years but were delayed due to cost.

The BOE subsequently trimmed Trane’s list down to $13.7 million (the LED lights, both high school HVACs and Mount Carmel cooling tower), and voted to seek a bond issue to cover the cost.

Initially, county commissioners were told a 5-cent property tax increase was needed to cover the loan. Later, commissioners were told that no new taxes would be needed before 2036 to pay off the loan, although the school system’s $9 million debt service fund would be depleted over that time period.

“We will go back to the drawing board”

During the Oct. 26 county commission meeting, Director of Schools Matt Hixson told commissioners the cost of the Trane project was based on previous state bids.

“Once one is bid out by the state that is similar or like the (Hawkins County) project we can piggyback those bids and make sure we’re getting the best use of the dollars for the project,” Hixson told the commission.

Hixson noted that Trane had agreed to advertise for bids for all aspects of the project not covered by the ESSI loan.

If Hawkins County doesn’t use Trane for this project it will have to pay Trane $136,000 for the study and engineering work that it conducted.

Hixson added, “We have a need that needs to be rectified and this was the best way we felt we could accomplish that need in the shortest amount of time. If it’s turned down tonight we will go back to the drawing board and we will re-address this. But the fact of the matter is that need stays there and we will be on the hook for future fees associated with costing this out and sending it to bid.”

“Tremendous savings” if the project is advertised for bids

The HVAC units are expected to last 25 years. Commissioner Hannah Speaks noted that approximately 10,000 high school students will be graduated from both high school over that time period.

“I get that this is a lot of money, but I just don’t see how any commissioner who voted yes for turf (on the football fields) can turn around and vote no for this. A commissioner stood up and said we’re looking at these athletes and telling them they don’t matter. Well, what you’re going to do is tell these 10,000 who have parents who pay taxes in Hawkins County … tell them they that don’t matter.”

Commissioner Rick Brewer acknowledged the need for the high school HVAC projects, but he believes there is a “tremendous savings” if the project is advertised for bids.

“That’s my whole concern from the very beginning, is we don’t award something just because we want somebody to do it,” Brewer said. “Let’s put it out there for competitive bids, see what we come up with, and then decide what we want to do.”

“We will have to decide as a team how best to proceed”

On Oct. 28, Hixson told the Times News, “We will bid out everything not covered by the $5 million EESI loan. That would include duct work, mechanical and electrical work, ground mounted HVAC units, switch gear and cooling tower.”

Will you use the Trane study and engineering specs?

Hixson: “Haven’t decided at this point. The scope of work and planning has been done by Trane as an approved energy project. We will have to decide as a team how best to proceed at this point.”

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