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School board proactive in energy savings

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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Just like other Lincoln organizations, the Western Placer Unified School District is juggling bills, working to keep debt to a minimum and, at the same time, maintaining its aging facilities —  no small order considering those facilities include 11 school sites and $125 million in facilities’ debt.

The challenge set before the school board Tuesday night was how to be proactive about modernizing and upgrading school HVAC systems to save on utility costs for now and in the future, and yet not run up more debt.

“We’re trying to determine if we can afford to be proactive in the energy-savings area,” said Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman. “We have no problems managing our day-to-day bills or long-term debt; we’re just looking at how we can balance managing our debt with insuring that we maintain our facilities.”

With that goal in mind, the board heard an update on a development project from Johnson Controls, Inc., hired by the school district last July to develop a project that would save the district in energy costs to pay for improvements.

“The debt and savings would be spread out over 20 years, making the project ‘budget-neutral’ —that is, the energy savings would ultimately pay for the debt,” said Audrey Kilpatrick, assistant superintendent of business operations for Western Placer Unified School District.

Under this budget-neutral plan, Johnson Controls, Inc. outlined two options. At a cost of just over $5 million, option one would cover energy and HVAC improvements district-wide at 11 facilities including seven elementary, two middle  school and two high schools.

“There would be improvements to each school, depending upon their needs,” Kilpatrick said.

Option two, at a cost of $2.75 million, only addresses upgrading heating and air conditioning equipment at Carlin C. Coppin Elementary School. Located at 150 East 12th St. in Lincoln, the school was built in 1973 using the “open pod system,” which employed large open rooms.

In 1993, the school district remodeled the classrooms to deal with the ongoing challenge of getting proper heating and cooling into those areas.

Superintendent Leaman said that the challenge involves only the oldest part of the school, but at present, the district is considering abandoning five Coppin classrooms until the HVAC issue can be remedied.

“We’ll find alternate spaces to work out of when temperatures are at their highest,” Leaman said. “The conditions are not terrible. We’re just trying to be proactive.”

Whether the school board will recommend the “budget-neutral” plan is still being discussed.

“I’m cautious about automatically accepting any option,” said board member, Damian Armitage. “If we can get some favorable financing, I might be open to any of the options but only after we have additional information.”