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County gives OK to $9.2M project
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The Warren County Commission flipped the switch on a $9.2 million energy savings project approved by the Warren County School System. 

Commissioners accepted 23-1 a measure on Monday night to obtain bonds to cover funding for a contract between the school system and Energy Systems Group to make energy-saving upgrades to several schools and the central office. The debt will be repaid by the school system using energy savings. 

Commissioner Tyrone Sparkman was the one who voted against it, while others voiced hesitancy but voted for it.

Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin says teachers are concerned about restrictions to guarantee those energy savings. 

“I got jumped yesterday at lunch by a teacher,” said Commissioner Bouldin. “There are some rumors out there about how you’re going to save this money. She asked me why we were taking her refrigerator away from her.”

Director of Schools Bobby Cox said, “Nobody has said we’re taking anything away from teachers.”

Bouldin added that the rumor mill among teachers is they will also lose personal coffee pots, microwaves, and the privilege of putting up Christmas lights during December, and that the thermostat will be placed at 68 in the winter and 74 in the summer.

Cox denied he has said any of those things, but admits restrictions could be set to help ensure the school’s annual $1.6 million energy bill is lowered.

“Not one single teacher has called me about this project,” Cox said. “Not one. I’ve not said we are taking anything away. I’ve not said that I’ll make is 68 degrees and unbearable. I’ve not said anything about Christmas lights. Good gracious. I’ve never said they couldn’t have a Christmas tree or lights. But the School Board will have to decide what will be allowed in classrooms and what policies we have to make to ensure we are using energy the right way.”

While Cox said the contract between ESG and Warren County Schools outlines the temperature in which the thermostat should be set, ESG representative Josh McNeil said the temperature can be changed slightly to make classrooms comfortable.

“Our goal at the end of the day is to have the most comfortable classroom for teachers and students that are going to be there on a daily basis,” said McNeil. “There will be set points. If they don’t like 70, they can go down to 68 or up to 72. There will be a couple degrees either way that it can be switched so teachers and students can be comfortable. The big savings we want to claim and get at is at night when the building is not being used, and on the weekends. If you’re leaving for the weekend, you don’t want the air set on 68. You’ll bump it up. It’s the exact same thing.”

The project by ESG will include, among other items, comprehensive LED lighting, district-wide controls, a Hickory Creek boiler, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) replacements for WCMS, Bobby Ray, Eastside, Irving College and West, an additional HVAC at WCMS, central office and Dibrell, WCHS coil replacement, and weatherization.

As claimed by Energy Systems Group, the savings should be enough to cover the project’s cost. If not, ESG will make up the difference. 

Cox says the school district will have to do its part to reduce energy consumption. Cox also answered questions about how ESG was selected, which schools will receive a new HVAC system, and if the number of maintenance staff will be reduced after the upgrades.

“No, we will not reduce our maintenance staff for any reason,” said Cox. “I’ve heard that one. No one has ever said that. We have a good maintenance staff and they do a good job. It will be important for them to maintain the equipment that’s put in and keep the other part running as well. The contract does include three years of maintenance, but our maintenance staff will need to care for the new equipment after that.”

With Warren County Commission approval, bonds will be secured and the project will move forward. No timeframe was given at the meeting for the work.