Commissioners seek energy efficiency in properties

Published 8:40 pm Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Pike County Commission looked into ways of saving energy in all of its buildings by completing an energy performance audit.
The county worked with Trane, an official Energy Service Company. Trane called in experts to look at each facility’s lighting, HVAC equipment, controls, insulation, storm windows and doors, indoor air quality and natural resources.
The audit included the savings the county would see by replacing, fixing or upgrading systems and the costs of the replacements.
The responsibility of maintaining county buildings falls under County Administrator Harry Sanders. The list of county buildings includes county schools, the district attorney’s office, the Board of Education’s offices, the Health Department and the Pike County Courthouse. Sanders said using an Energy Service Company to track the maintenance work needed was only an option, but it was one he recommended because waiting to replace HVAC systems or lighting as they broke down could be costly, especially if repairs were needed all at once.
Sander’s favorite part of the assessment was the estimated savings because the estimates were guaranteed. If the county followed Trane’s recommendations and did not see the savings, the company would write a check for the difference.
The county must decide whether to accept all or part of the recommendations made by Trane.
“The minimum that they would suggest we do would cost between $500,000 and $600,000,” Sanders said.
The repairs would be paid through a bond issue. Sanders said the more work done and the larger the bond, the better the interest rate. He asked Trane to give commissioners several options, including one with repairs and upgrades over $1 million.
Because the courthouse was due for a new roof, Sanders predicted its list of repairs would put them over that $1 million mark, and he was right. But the roof was not the most immediate need. Trane auditors found moisture in the walls of the building and leaks that had cost water damage. While there was no mold detected, it was a concern that mold might develop if the damage was not addressed.
When Sanders presented the audit to commissioners at this week’s meeting, he reminded commissioners of their agreement with Trane. The company’s assessment would be free if they were hired to do some or all of the listed repairs. Otherwise, the county would have to pay $10,000 to Trane to cover the costs of the audit.
Commissioner Charlie Harris asked to see the contract and the specific clause that left them liable for $10,000. He said the county spent more than $1 million on the courthouse about 12 or 13 years ago and he could not see spending more money on it. The biggest expense of the $1.5 million modifications he referenced was adding an elevator to the building, which was built in 1952.
“The Commission just can’t keep throwing money at old buildings,” Harris said.
Commissioner Robin Sullivan said the Commission had to look at the cost of repairs compared to the cost of building something new to replace it. Sullivan said the first priority was to build a new jail and that would cost as much as $2 billion. Building a courthouse the size of the current one would cost just as much.
Commissioner Joey Jackson compared the amount of money spent on the courthouse to what is spent on roads that are just as old.
“We’ve got to find a balance because we’re going to spend some money on some roads,” he said. “Until we find that balance, I don’t want to make a decision.”
The matter was tabled until commissioners could review Trane’s report. Sanders said the ESCO contract does have time constraints. He would not recommend commissioners waiting beyond their next scheduled meeting (on May 12) to make a decision.
“I’m asking them to make a decision on how far to go and I made a recommendation to seriously consider the full scope of the project because it would be the most cost-effective option,” Sanders said.

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