The Botetourt County School Board will use an expected $7.6 million in energy and operational savings over the next 15 years to make nearly $6.3 million in improvements to all of the school buildings over the course of the next year.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to make a request for proposals (RFP) for two possible financing scenarios to fund the work, and the School Board got a more detailed look at just what kinds of work will be done during a work session Thursday morning.

Witt Blake with Johnson Controls said his company will guarantee the energy savings for the proposed scope of work that will mean, among other things, new LED lighting inside and outside all the school buildings.

A major component of the savings will come with the new LED lighting, Blake said, adding that the LED lighting will also be better in the classrooms, in the gyms and for exterior lighting.

And it may come with some “health” benefits.

Director of Operations Ben Irvin told the School Board they did a test mock up with the recommended LED lighting at Central Academy Middle School.

The teacher in one of the classrooms has occasional headaches because of the florescent lighting that creates a  “flicker,” Irvin said. “We put in the LED lighting and immediately, we saw a difference.”

Blake said the LED lights provide “the appropriate amount of light” for classrooms, provide a better quality light and the bulbs are warranted for 10 years.

The long-lasting bulbs, he said, also reduce the labor required to replace bulbs, which is not included in the projected energy savings.

The work will also include upgrades to the existing building automation systems that already help control energy costs.  The upgrades will “make the equipment run smarter,” Blake said.

Some of the schools will also get other improvements. Air systems at Lord Botetourt High School and Read Mountain Middle School will be sealed and the 20-year-old air handling unit will be replaced at LBHS.

The work will include replacing boilers at LBHS, CAMS, RMMS and Botetourt Technical Education Center. Irvin called those the “worst of the worst.” The school division was forced to replace the boiler at James River High School this year.

The chillers will be replaced at LBHS and CAMS as part of the project , and there will be smaller upgrades at various schools, including some kitchens, and insulating some walls and insulating areas around windows and doors.

The project also includes installing water conservation fixtures to reduce water consumption for school buildings that have water bills.

The school division is using an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) through a program administered by the Virginia Division of Mineral Mining’s Division of Energy.

Johnson Controls, a certified consultant and the general contractor for the project, did the Investment Grade Audit on the school buildings to calculate the energy cost savings.

The annual energy savings are expected to be at least $420,000 the first year, and those savings will pay the debt  service on the $6.3 million in work.

It’s possible the school division will save even more, but the annual savings is guaranteed or Johnson Controls will write a check for the difference to cover the debt service. If that happens, Johnson Controls would work on correcting any problems.

Blake said it’s not unusual for school divisions to save more than projected. As an example, he said Page County schools, which had an ESPC, had savings last year that were $200,000 more than projected.

Should that happen, School Superintendent John Busher said those savings would likely go into the school division’s Capital Reserve Fund to address other maintenance needs and upgrades.

The school division turned to the ESPC because of the growing maintenance needs that continued to build because of tight budget years.

Last fall, the School Board authorized the Investment Grade Energy Audit to get a picture of just what was needed.

Busher said the $6.3 million in work that’s slated meets many of the school division’s pent up needs, but doesn’t do things like fix or replace roofs because there’s not much energy savings in doing that.

The projected annual energy savings basically established how much work the school division could afford to do over the life of the 15-year ESPC.

Because of the way the program is set up through the state and the potential tax savings for financing these projects, school division Director of Administration and Finance James Lyon said the county should be able to finance the projects at about a 1 percent effective interest rate.

The School Board is expected to approve a final ESPC contract when it meets next week and the Board of Supervisors should have a recommended financing contract for approval when it meets May 23, with an expected closing the end of June.

If that schedule works out, the project will start in July. The first items that will be addressed are replacing the boilers at the four schools.

— Ed McCoy