New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | January 22, 2021

Energy efficiency contract provides opportunity for repairs at Charles City schools

By Andre Jones | June 29, 2020 4:41 pm

With facility repairs needed for a 27-year old building complex, Charles City Public Schools are working on an agreement to help their schools with the necessary upgrades to keep it functioning with its day-to-day operations.

The school system is finalizing an agreement with ABM Solutions that will assist with approximately $4.6 million in repairs.

“The idea started more than two-and-a-half years ago as the result of a DECIDESMART study,” said outgoing Charles City Superintendent of Schools David Gaston. “We were looking at how we can have cost savings on joint services while looking to up upgrade facilities.”

The school system placed feelers on the project, reaching out to 15 Energy Savings Companies (ESCOs) during the exploratory stages.

“While the county’s side didn’t feel that moving forward with further exploration would produce the savings on their facilities that they felt they would need, the schools saw an opportunity and stayed on it,” the superintendent continued. “We decided last year to pursue it.”

That pursuit led to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) bid process on an energy performance contract. Initially six of the 15 companies responded. A school division selection committee composed of administrative staff, faculty, and a school board representative reviewed each company’s proposed and narrowed the pool down to three ESCOS after four months of proposals and bids. ABM Building Solutions LLC was selected as the ESCO with the strongest bid to provide the best opportunities for the schools according the superintendent.

“We decided that ABM had the most to offer,” Gaston added. “From there, it has been an all-out partnership to get these buildings and grounds back in working condition.”

Gaston commented that the company conducted an Investment Grade Audit (IGA), an evaluation of their facility grounds including buildings and the wastewater facility. The extensive process took nearly five months to complete, with some new information that explained some of the inefficiencies in the building complex.

“There were things they discovered that we didn’t know were issues,” he commented on. “For example, we have eight fresh air circulators in the canopy area of our high school. Not one of the circulators were working. They were burnt out.

“While we could replace some components for the HVAC, we would have nothing to keep them cool, which means those circulators provided no efficiency,” Gaston continued. “Replacing the costs of that equipment alone could be staggering.”

ABM Solutions’ assessment discovered $8.1 million in potential repairs needed for the schools. The company recommended $4.6 million in projects to address the most pressing needs of replacing and upgrading all HVAC systems, lighting, and electrical in the complex. The proposal also focused on upgrading the wastewater facility and using the savings generated from reduced energy consumption to completely replace the outdoor track and support a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center in the annex for adult and student welding, along with general contracting certification courses.

“ABM Solutions’ goal is to produce cost savings for us,” Gaston commented. “Under their agreement they must meet the designated savings in costs, or they would have to cut us a check for the difference.”

Those savings are expected to be roughly $220,000 a year for the school system upon entering the agreement. The agreement spans over a 15-year period, totaling more than $5 million in savings. Among projects listed include lighting upgrades to the facility, replacing the high school’s track, replacing boilers and water source pumps at the high school, upgrading security systems at the elementary and high school, upgrading all HVAC controls at both schools, upgrading HVAC at the elementary school, and working to upgrade the wastewater plant. The financial benefits and savings are projected to save the county and school division up to $2 million in Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) projects over the next five years.

“This agreement will not only save us money, but it would also save the county money,” the superintendent continued. “Because this is a lease purchase agreement, it doesn’t count towards the county’s debt service. It will also give our maintenance team a breather, as roughly 80 percent of their time is currently focused on daily repairs to our HVAC systems.

“These same projects that will cost $4.6 million would cost the county roughly $12-15 million over the next 15 years to do the same things,” Gaston added. “In 30 years, there will be at least a total of $8 million in savings.”

According to Gaston, entering into the agreement also provides a few additional benefits. Among one of the more intriguing proposals is converting the old vocational technical building into a possible regional technical center.

“This site would provide welding and general contracting services to students from our region,” he commented. “If the proposed gas plants are constructed in the county, they will be looking for students with general contracting skills to hire. It could be a pipeline for them to be employed. More importantly though, it will produce individuals who can be hired by regional employers such as Newport News Shipbuilding or local contracting companies in the Richmond area who are paying strong salaries for these skills.

“We are working with John Tyler community on this project,” Gaston continued. “We are offering trades that our other regional partners do not house. By doing that, we continue to establish a strong relationship with all of our surrounding localities while not intruding on what they specialize in.”

Information presented through a Powerpoint indicated that the repairs will provide a better environment not only for students, but for staff as well.

“A study from Harvard showed that better lighting leads to a better learning environment,” Gaston said. “Better air quality means healthier staff and students, which means fewer sick days.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” he continued. “It’s been done successfully in other school divisions [Orange County, King William County, Middlesex County] and I believe it will be beneficial for our school division as well.”

Currently, ABM has worked with 68 school divisions. If finalized by mid-July, projects could began nearly immediately.

“We would have to take on certain projects, such as lighting and the school track because they are the quickest ways to show cost savings,” Gaston added. “Once we begin, all upgrades and projects will be completed within the next 12 to 18 months.”

As far as payment for the lease, that cost won’t be initiated for at least two years, providing the schools ample opportunities to create a financial plan.

“We won’t have to make payments until FY2022,” Gaston said as he wrapped up the interview. “It’s essentially a reprieve until the next fiscal year for everyone.

“We have a correlation with our timelines and our projects,” he continued. “With a fixed rate on the deal, the cost savings we will accumulate in just the first five years will entirely pay for the interest and reduce our current capital improvement costs that are in our school division budgets.”