2017-03-02 / Front Page

Upgrades Nearly Complete at School

Comfort and Savings Are Expected To Be Results of Heating System, Lighting Work at St. Ignace
By Kevin R. Hess


A $1.2 million interest free bond enabled St. Ignace Area Schools to make improvements to their lighting and boiler systems. Lights were replaced throughout the entire elementary/ middle school, and in the high school, gymnasium, cafeteria, and library. Here, the new energy efficient LED lights can be seen in the middle school gym. They shine brighter and use less energy. The new heating system helps to regulate the temperature during big events. Also, multiple occupancy sensors were installed. If no activity is detected for 12 minutes, the lights automatically shut off. This keeps lights from being on when the areas are not being used. A $1.2 million interest free bond enabled St. Ignace Area Schools to make improvements to their lighting and boiler systems. Lights were replaced throughout the entire elementary/ middle school, and in the high school, gymnasium, cafeteria, and library. Here, the new energy efficient LED lights can be seen in the middle school gym. They shine brighter and use less energy. The new heating system helps to regulate the temperature during big events. Also, multiple occupancy sensors were installed. If no activity is detected for 12 minutes, the lights automatically shut off. This keeps lights from being on when the areas are not being used. An interest-free, $1.2 million bond has helped St. Ignace schools to upgrade their facilities with new energy efficient lighting and heating/ cooling system. School administrators expect the savings in energy will lead to substantial financial savings over the next several years.

The project began in August and is near completion.

Johnson Controls, Inc. is the company chosen by the school to facilitate the project. The company installed the original heating and air units in the elementary and middle school building when it was built, and they have provided maintenance on them since. The company that installed the original high school systems went out of business, and Johnson Controls took over the maintenance on them, as well. It met with the St. Ignace school board and was the only company to offer a bid for the project.

All of the lights, boilers, and fans in the elementary and middle school were upgraded. Fluorescent lighting was replaced with LED. Occupancy sensors installed in general areas like the gymnasium and cafeteria automatically turn off lights when no activity is detected. This keeps the lights from running all night, as often happened in the past.

The elementary and middle school has three boiler rooms with 20 boilers. All of them were near the end of their original lifespan and it was hard to find replacement parts because of the age of the equipment. As part of the new setup, three boilers are able to do the job. The new boilers are bigger, stronger, and more efficient. A few of the old boilers remain, for the purpose of redundancy. If a boiler fails or is taken off line for maintenance, the remaining boilers will carry the load in most conditions.

The high school did not receive a complete overhaul like the elementary and middle school because much of its equipment was 10 years newer and the school board felt the savings would not have been as significant. They did make improvements in the cafeteria, gymnasium, and library. Lights in all three areas were replaced with new LED lights, along with occupancy sensors. The new lights use less, but brighter lighting, less energy, and use an energy management system called daylight harvesting. The occupancy sensors trigger based on occupancy, but also take advantage of daylight by using ambient (natural and artificial) light present in a space. The more ambient light that is present, the less light the bulbs need to produce.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) improvements were also made in the gymnasium and the industrial arts area, where air exchange was not at the level it should have been. The improvements now allow for better air circulation. Superintendent Don Gustafson says the difference can already be felt.

“Often times in the winter, during ball games,” he said, “we’ve had to open doors to let in cold air because the gym would get too warm and stuffy. I have not had to do that this winter. Our shop class would often be too cold, while the room behind it was too warm. Now the air is flowing better and the temperature is much better regulated.”

LaSalle High School Principal Gregg Fettig said the big tests will be in the spring and fall.

“Those are the times when we often have cold mornings and warm afternoons, making it harder to regulate the temperature,” he said. “With the new control system, we are able to bring in fresh outside air, making classrooms more comfortable for teachers and students and providing a better teaching and learning atmosphere.”

The high school also had misers installed on their two vending machines. Sensors were added to the cold beverage machines that will shut off the lights and cycle compressors at a lower rate, reducing energy use. They use ambient temperature sensors and motion sensors to control how often the machines are running.

Outside, improvements were also made. Exterior lights were replaced in the parking lot, along walkways, and on the entrance sign along Portage Street, providing more lighting and better visibility throughout the property.

The company estimates that the improvements will significantly reduce energy use, by as much as 75% in some areas. The reduction should translate to significant financial savings in gas, water, and electricity bills. The school board has budgeted for the project, and believes that the savings from the improvements will allow the district to pay off the bond used to finance the project. Under a three-year maintenance agreement, Johnson Controls will provide regularly scheduled maintenance checks, as well as a yearly report detailing the savings of the previous year. The company analyzed the utility bills over one year, factoring in weather conditions that most closely represent typical facility operation for the school. The analysis estimates a savings of almost $56,000 annually, through a 20% reduction in utility costs and an operational savings of $22,000. Representatives from Johnson Controls will attend the April school board meeting to present a preliminary savings report, which will detail the savings achieved since the renovations began. The savings achieved through the renovations would potentially allow for more funding for the classrooms.

“I’m optimistic that our cost savings can be used in other aspects of our district, hopefully to benefit our students and teachers,” said Mr. Fettig.

The last step in the process is for the company to set up the digital portion of the project. By connecting into the district’s online network, it will be able to access information from the school’s system and diagnose any problems it may be having. This allows for quicker response time when problems arise, and avoids unnecessary maintenance trips.

The project was made possible through a Qualified Zone Academy Bond, a government, non-interestbearing bond issued to qualifying schools for energy efficiency and renewable energy renovation and repairs, investment in equipment and up-to-date technology, developing and improving curriculum, and training teachers. Schools from low-income populations can qualify for the funds if 35% or more students are on the free or reduced meal program. St. Ignace has 53%. The federal government covers all of the interest on the bonds, enabling schools to save up to 50% of a project’s total cost. Schools can be approved for a 10- to 25-year bond through this program. St. Ignace was approved for $1.2 million over 15 years (from 2017 to 2031). First National Bank of St. Ignace purchased the bond. Financial institutions that partner with the program are provided with a federal tax credit in lieu of a cash interest payment.

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