Geothermal projects bring better air, lower energy use to Washington, Holmes

       The climate has changed at Washington Elementary and Holmes Middle School in the past year, but no one's complaining about it.
       In fact, the principals at both schools are quite pleased. Thanks to the geo-thermal (also called geoexchange) systems that were installed in summer 2007 at each school, the temperatures stay around 70 degrees - eliminating past issues of kids who were too hot or cold to focus on their studies.
       “In the past, on really hot days, we'd have doors and windows open and fans and things like that, which let new noise sources into the building, and it was very distracting,” Washington Principal Terry Martinez said.
       Both he and Holmes Principal Rob Utter described how the heat especially could leave kids “drained,” as Utter put it. “They can be much more engaged when they don't feel like they're melting into their seats.”
       But the benefits go beyond simple comfort. According to Michael Brubaker of the School District 11 Energy Office, the steady temperature - effected by liquids pumped continuously through a system of pipes looping underground as well as through the buildings- also require less energy. A big reason is that the schools no longer need large boilers, or the natural gas to fire them up.
       Even with the addition of an air-conditioning equivalent, the amount of energy used was cumulatively lower at both schools than the year before - not to mention well below the average of all D-11 schools with AC.
       Cumulative energy costs were also lower than they had been at both schools, though not as dramatically because electricity is currently more expensive than gas and energy costs in general keep rising, Brubaker explained.
       As shown in the charts on this page, the cumulative cost for '07-'08 at Washington amounted to just over $20,000, which is $6,100 less than the year before. The cost at Holmes (a bigger school) was just over $70,000, reflecting a $9,200 savings, Brubaker said.
       The biggest savings was in the coldest months, when both schools were at times using less than half as much energy as before. The only time there was not a noticeable improvement was in June - the first test of the system in hotter weather. Brubaker noted that previously Holmes and Washington had very little energy use in hot weather because they did not need the boiler for heating and they had no AC to turn on.
       The projects at the two schools, costing over $1 million in all, are expected to pay for themselves over a period of time.

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