by Debbie Coleman-Topi
More than a third of Platte County R-3 School District's mechanical systems will be replaced by the latest, energy-saving technology, which carries a price tag of $5.1 million.
School board members approved the overhaul following a two-month examination of the proposal, presented by a representative of an area energy company, which will conduct the project.
The 15-year plan calls for the district to pay for the replacement of 51 of the district's 121 rooftop units that supply heating, ventilation and cooling with modern, energy-efficient models.
The plan also calls for replacement of 90 percent of the district's lighting, some plumbing upgrades and replacement of worn weatherization components.
The plan allows the district to qualify for federal cash incentives, helping to pay for the program, district officials said. Under the lease-purchase agreement, the district will make annual payments of $476,939 in each of the next 15 years until the project is paid for in 2031, according to the written proposal.
All but two board members voted in favor of the plan at Thursday's Board of Education meeting in which a brief discussion took place before members cast their votes. The action followed two months of study and presentations by an official with Navitas (ESCO) Energy Services Company. The board considered several companies before choosing Navitas, whose website lists Olathe as its headquarters.
The first presentation was at the board's Dec. 17 meeting, when members tabled the issue in order to conduct more investigation, said board secretary Vicki Diggs.
The proposal's timeline calls for initial improvements to begin by mid-March, with the last components to be completed by the end of August, which is about two weeks into the 2016-'17 school year, said technology director Robert Hedgecorth.
At Thursday's meeting, Superintendent Mike Reik told the board that this vote followed “a long road of maybe way too much research.” He added that he and board member Gary Brown had met with Navitas official Koby Kampschroeder to study the plan.
“We're ready to move on this,” he told the board. “We're at a point where we're ready to take action.”
The only dissenting vote was cast by Adam McGinness, board vice president.
Board member Lori Bogart did not vote—she was absent.
In an interview with The Landmark after the meeting, McGinness explained his vote.
“I'm all about saving and better energy usage but I also want to be confident,” he said, adding that there are “unanswered questions” about the funding.
Brown told the board that he was confident in the proposal.
“We think it's our best solution,” he said.
When McGinness asked, “Can we talk about financing?” Brown answered, “We've really compressed their schedule.”
The original proposal carried a $5.5 million price tag as compared to the approved proposal of $5.1 million.
“If this is something we're really interested in, we should probably move,” Brown said.
Brown explained that the current rebate program, offered by the federal government based on energy consumption by suppliers Kansas City Power and Light and Missouri Gas Company, soon will fail to offer such high rebates.
Under the current schedule, the district will receive a one-time payment of $380,000 at the completion of the project, which will help pay for the overhaul. In addition, he explained that the proposal's extensive calculations guarantee savings, if the outlined plan is followed.
“It's up to us to use the buildings as we said or we won't see the savings,” he said.
Sharon Sherwood, board president, initially expressed apprehension during the meeting.
“My concern is really we're replacing things (units) that aren't ready,” she said.
Kampschroeder explained that the units scheduled to be replaced are those that meet specific criteria based on a formula that considers each unit separately and includes considerations such as current energy consumption, age of units and operating costs. He said the implications of the plan have long-reaching affects.
“At the end of the day, we're trying to help the schools be successful,” he told the board.
Kirby Holden, who described himself as a concerned taxpayer with children in the district, said he opposes the plan.
“I just hate to see them go further in debt for something that has marginal payback,” he said in an interview. “Five million dollars in this little community is huge. In these hard times, you have to pick and choose what you're voting for.”
Janet Stark, another opponent, said she attends many school board meetings although she and her husband have no school-aged children in the district. She said they're concerned about excessive spending and high property taxes and added that parents should be more involved in order to affect change.
“If I had a student in the schools, I'd want more accountability,” she said.
At the meeting, Brown asked Kampschroeder to name other area school districts for which the company has created and implemented similar energy-saving programs. They include North Kansas City (currently in the process of installation), Park Hill, Liberty and Smithville.
Nicole Kirby, director of communications at the Park Hill School District, said a similar energy-saving program the district implemented in 2010 has met expectations, resulting in reduced consumption and significant cost savings.
Under the plan at R-3, units chosen for replacement are among the district's oldest and most-used, such as several located at the south end of the high school, which fall into both criteria, said Hedgecorth, the district’s technology director. Several of these units have surpassed the 25-year mark, meaning they are operating past life expectancy. Hedgecorth said it's difficult to find parts for such units.
New district construction, which includes Compass Elementary and a two-story addition to Pathfinder Elementary, are not among the units being replaced.
The project will be financed by George K. Baum and Company, which is the financier for the district's current construction.
Hedgecorth said that the energy updates will be performed between the hours of 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. weekdays and on weekends when classes are not in session.