3/15/16 Board moves ahead on school upgrades

Board moves ahead on school upgrades
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 3/15/16    
Reprinted with permission.      

   The school board is moving forward with a plan to borrow millions against future energy savings to pay for improvements to school buildings like better lights and air conditioners.

   Rough estimates on upgrades in six local schools came to $3.8 million. There are 36 schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System, suggesting the total could be well over $20 million.

   “I’m estimating it’s six times that amount,” said ABSS Superintendent Bill Harrison at the board’s March work session Monday. “I don’t see how we can go to the commissioners and get the dollars to pay for the projects up front.”

   The Alamance-Burlington Board of Education has been looking at the idea as a way to pay for a long list of upgrades as the district and county come up with a comprehensive list of school needs and considers building two new schools.

   After a lengthy discussion, the board told Harrison to go ahead with the next step and bring the board a resolution it can vote on to go to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates the practice, and get started.

   This will be the last presentation from representatives of Greensboro company Brady Trane, unless it wins the contract to do the work. At the board’s request, Trane visited six ABSS schools to get an idea of what upgrades they need spending a half hour each at Cummings and Eastern Alamance high schools, Broadview and Turrentine middle schools and Alexander Wilson and Altamahaw-Ossipee elementary schools.

   Tim Gasper, performance engineer with Brady Trane, said there were about $3.8 million worth of upgrades needed. Duke Energy is offering rebates that would take that cost down to $3.2 million. Those upgrades should save ABSS about $240,000 every year in power bills at current rates, which after debt service on the loans and training ABSS staff to use new equipment would represent about $6,500 in net savings every year.

   “Performance contracting” allows an institution like a school or a school system to borrow money for things like new lighting, windows or heating and cooling systems against future energy savings. The contracts guarantee that the improvements will cut the kilowatt hours schools use each year, not how much the district pays for power, since electricity prices are so volatile.

   The district would end up spending about the same amount of money over those 15 to 20 years, since what it saved in electric bills would go to pay off loans for the new equipment.

   That means the Alamance County Board of Commissioners would need to agree to keep funding ABSS as though its consumption was not changing. A few members of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners have said publicly they like the idea.

   Harrison said the district had years of maintenance delayed over the recession years. When he saw a list of needs for all ABSS schools a joint taskforce of the board and the county commissioners came up with last year, Harrison said he started looking for ways to pay for them, and this is one that has worked in many districts around the state.