Board hires energy company

Published 8:31 pm Friday, February 12, 2016

The Suffolk School Board on Thursday hired Trane Inc. to be its partner in an energy-saving process they hope can save the schools money.

Trane was one of two firms interviewed Jan. 14 after they submitted audits of how much savings could be expected from the program.

“It really allows us to replace some equipment that we know is in dire need,” Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney said Thursday.

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The state-approved program allows energy contractors to agree to make energy-saving upgrades that cover the cost of the debt service on those upgrades. If the energy savings do not cover the cost, the contractor writes a check for the difference.

“This project will be kicking off small amounts of money every year,” said Howard Turner, energy operations manager for Trane. “It doesn’t create money; it redeploys money to finance the cost of improvements.”

Turner explained that the cost savings will grow throughout the life of the project, as the money used to pay down principal and interest decreases. The cost savings continue even after the debt is paid off, he said.

The contractor reviews the project periodically to ensure it is generating the anticipated savings, Turner added.

Trane representatives visited Nansemond River High School, King’s Fork Middle School, and Creekside and Kilby Shores elementary schools while doing their estimates, said Terry Napier, director of facilities and planning for Suffolk Public Schools.

“We wanted that age range for them to be able to make comparisons,” he said, referring to the age of the buildings. The company will visit every facility before making its final recommendations, Napier added.

While the Trane representatives did not provide specific savings estimates for Suffolk, they showed the results of a “representative job” in another school division where the net cash flow during the life of the project was $1.2 million. Turner said schools in Suffolk are comparable in age and other factors to other divisions where Trane has worked.

While the specific projects for Suffolk have yet to be determined, typical improvements include more efficient lighting, heat, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment and water-conserving equipment, Turner said.

Energy savings typically range from 20 to 40 percent, Turner added.

School Board member Judith Brooks-Buck said the project is exciting. She’s one of two School Board members on the City School Advisory Committee for Collaborative Fiscal Concerns, which has pushed the project.

Fellow members of that committee have expressed concerns about the project’s timing, saying it could have moved faster if Brooks-Buck hadn’t insisted on a presentation to the full School Board before the process officially began.

“It’s really nice to see,” she said after asking the Trane representatives about the timing of Suffolk’s process. They responded the project has been moving on a typical timeframe.

“It’s nice to know that even though we vetted it, we didn’t delay it,” she said.