Voters to weigh in on Lake Placid school energy project

LAKE PLACID – The Lake Placid Central School District is preparing to start its Energy Savings Capital Project. The Board of Education hopes voters will back it next month, a move that would let the district seek additional aid from the state.

The project, which includes replacement of the boiler and cooling tower at the Lake Placid Elementary School, will move forward with or without voter approval. If voters approve the ballot initiative, the amount of building aid from the state would increase from 19.9 percent to 29.9 percent.

School board President Mary Dietrich said “it reduces the cost dramatically” if voters back the project.

The ballot question currently reads, “Shall the Trustees of the Lake Placid Central School District be allowed to apply for an additional 10% state building aid for its Energy Savings Capital Project and the financing thereof?” The measure needs a simple majority to pass. Voters go to the polls May 21.

The energy project has been in the works for several years, with board member Herb Stoerr and district Budget Officer Leonard Sauers doing much of the legwork. Stoerr explained that initially, the district asked several firms to look at school facilities to find ways to save the district money through energy improvements. Only one firm responded, MCW Custom Energy Solutions of Saratoga Springs.

Every five years, the district’s architectural firm, Mosaic Associates of Saratoga Springs, conducts a building survey. Stoerr said the most recent study found more than $7 million in energy deficiencies, so the district set about to correct its shortcomings.

The district has since entered into an “energy performance contract” with MCW, which has identified eight projects at the middle-high school, nine at the elementary school and two at the Administrative Services Center. Some work has already been done, Stoerr said, including replacement of a chimney at the middle-high school.

The total projected cost is $731,404, of which about $708,500 is eligible for reimbursement from the state. MCW has guaranteed annual energy costs savings of $52,609.

Without voter backing, the project would net the district a positive cash flow of $98,609. With backing, that figure increases to $194,201, according to MCW.

At the middle-high school, the district plans to spend about $471,000 on a variety of projects, including lighting system upgrades, building envelope air sealing, steam trap rebuild and replacement, and temperature control improvements. Elementary school projects total about $230,000 and include lighting system upgrades, electric boiler replacement and cooling tower replacement.

The district also plans to make some energy upgrades to the administrative offices.

“Each one of the projects generates savings,” Stoerr said. He stressed that MCW has guaranteed the savings, meaning the firm will be liable if reality doesn’t match up with projections.

“They will follow up on the progress we’re making in terms of energy savings,” Stoerr said. “But we’re the ones really knowing, through our financial statements, whether we’re actually getting the savings or not.”

Stoerr said he’s confident that MCW’s calculations are accurate.

Some area school districts, including Saranac Lake and AuSable Valley, have switched to wood-fueled boilers. Stoerr said that because electric rates are so low in Lake Placid, it makes more sense to stick with an electric system, especially since an electric boiler is significantly less expensive than a wood chip or pellet boiler.

A wood pellet boiler at Petrova School in Saranac Lake cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly grant money, to purchase and install, whereas Lake Placid will spend about $42,000 to replace the electric boiler at its elementary school.

Sauers said the district will start receiving aid from the state in 2014-15 school year, and the savings from the project will reduce general fund expenditures.

“The expense will be the finance portion of the project,” he said. “What MCW is projecting is that the savings and the aid will offset the expense. What that means in terms of taxpayer dollars, is that all things remaining equal, you’ll have $100,000 less in your budget, so your actual tax levy could potentially be $100,000 less.”

“It’s maintenance that we have to do,” Dietrich said. “We have an aging building in the middle-high school. The elementary school still has upkeep and maintenance that has to be done. We can either do it as an energy project and get state aid and get the savings, or we’ll just spend the money and have to do it and have a good building, but we’re not getting the benefits of everything that’s available to us.”

Dietrich said the project is environmentally sound.

“It saves us money fairly quickly,” she said. “From both those standpoints, this is a project we should move ahead with.”

Stoerr said the district must make arrangements to finance the project. He said current figures are based on a 4.4 percent interest rate, although the district might be able to find loans with interest rates as low as 4 percent.

If everything goes according to plan, pre-construction will begin in September, with work wrapping up in February 2014. The project is currently being reviewed by the state Education Department. Stoerr said he doesn’t think any of the work will interfere with classes.

Mosaic will supervise the project.