GeoHVAC costs $10K more per year
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 23, 2013

Natural gas and electricity at Hoover Elementary cost the school district more than $10,000 more per year than six years ago, despite assurances that a new geothermal heating and air conditioning system would eventually pay for itself.

In a report to the West Branch Board of Education last week, a utility report prepared by the administration shows district utility bills up $15,000 in the past six years and Hoover Elementary accounting for 75 percent of the increase.

The report shows annual utility bills from the 2007-08 school year to the 2012-13 school year. The geoHVAC system was installed in 2009. At Hoover, natural gas dropped by more than $26,000 while electricity increased by more than $36,000, a net increase of more than $10,000.

The report also includes water bills, which shows an increase of more than $1,000 in six years.

The report looks at all three schools, miscellaneous buildings like the bus barn and maintenance shed, and then overall usage. Throughout the entire school district, natural gas costs dropped about $40,000 in those six years, from $69,000 to $29,000; Electricity went up about $45,000, from $91,000 to $136,000; and water usage increased about $10,000, from $11,000 to $21,000.

“I think it is doing what we expected,” Board President Mike Owen said.

In 2008, then-Superintendent Craig Artist reported that architects Shive-Hattery found out that others who used geoHVAC saved from 20 to 40 percent on natural gas. However, when adding air conditioning to the system, it was unclear how that might impact’s Hoover Elementary’s electric usage.

“From the testimonials, information from the Iowa Energy Center and our engineering firm, evidence is telling us that we will have a reduction of total yearly cost even when air-conditioning is added,” Artist wrote in an column in the April 3, 2008, West Branch Times.

Engineers also predicted the geoHVAC might pay for itself in 20 to 25 years.

Only four years after construction of the geoHVAC, it is difficult to determine, with the information presented so far, if the 25-year cost of the project will reflect predictions by Shive-Hattery’s engineers.

In 2007, engineering figures comparing four HVAC systems showed that the geoHVAC would have a 25-year operation and maintenance cost of $479,000.

Over the past four years, Hoover Elementary’s gas and electric bills have averaged about $72,500 per year. Extrapolated over the next 25 years, that would amount to more than $1.8 million.

However, that figure includes all electricity and gas used in the school, like lights, computers, personal refrigerators in many classrooms, water heaters and a kitchen that also supports the middle school. Also, that figure also does not account for any rate increases that may come from utility companies.

Further, Hoover Elementary’s electric bills spiked during construction from about $26,200 in the 2008-09 school year to nearly $80,000 in 2009-10, but have been steadily dropping since then to about $64,000 this past year.

Based on the most recent year’s gas and electric bills, the increase alone amounts to $250,000 over 25 years.

Board member Richard Paulus pointed out that the elementary school did not have air conditioning before and that pupils with allergies do not suffer when open windows bring in spring pollen.

“It’s a much better atmosphere,” he said. “That isn’t measured. It is a better learning environment.”

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