OTTOVILLE, Ohio - For Ottoville Local Schools, the proof has been in the utility bills.
Three years ago, the Putnam County school district opened a new K-12 building with an innovative geothermal heating and air-conditioning system. The district did not have access to natural gas for the building and wanted an alternative way to heat and cool it that might be easy on the wallet.
"We spend a year in our facility $70,000 to $75,000 for all energy costs," said Superintendent Kenneth Amstutz. "That is very low. The state basically says you should spend $1.50 to $1.75 per square foot per year for heating costs. We are running between 70 and 75 cents per square foot so we're basically at half of what it should be."
Ottoville tomorrow is hosting more than 200 representatives of school districts from across the state and out of state who are interested in learning more about geothermal heating and cooling. The conference is sponsored by Touchstone Energy, a consortium of local electric cooperatives.
"As much as we're in the business of selling energy, we're also in the business of saving energy," said Tom Konecny of Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative. "Because we're member-owned, we want to help everyone save on their energy costs. Geothermal can really save school systems a great deal of money in the long term."
Working on the premise that the upper 10 feet of the Earth's surface maintains a temperature around 55 degrees, geothermal systems harness heat from the ground to warm a building in the winter. In warm weather, hot air from the building is pulled through a heat exchanger into the ground.
While Ottoville was one of the first districts in the Ohio School Facilities Commission program to build a school with a geothermal system, the idea is now catching on, said Franklin Brown, a planning director with the OSFC.
"It's gaining a lot more momentum now that Ottoville's energy consumption is being reviewed by people," Mr. Brown said. "Geothermal has always been good, and now with energy costs doubling it becomes all that much better. I'm quite excited about it."
One of the districts that are getting on the geothermal bandwagon is Mohawk Local Schools north of Sycamore near the Seneca-Wyandot county line, which is building a new K-12 school with funding from the facilities commission.
Ron Kramer, Mohawk's assistant treasurer, said school officials worked all of the options before determining a geothermal system would be "the most cost-efficient in the long run."
Mohawk dug a 4.5-acre pond with miles of pipe installed underneath for its system. Ottoville's system is slightly different in that the school drilled 184 wells that allow it to tap into the heat in the ground. Electric heat pumps then circulate the air in each classroom.
Mr. Amstutz said the upfront construction costs are slightly higher than a conventional heating system, but his district made up the difference within about six months of operation.
"The system cost us $40,000 to $50,000 more to put in, so if we're saving $100,000 a year the payback was six months," he said. "That's a pretty good payback."
Spencerville Local Schools in Allen County also decided to go geothermal in its new K-12 building now under construction.
"Our main thinking was energy prices are never going to get any less. They're going to continue to rise," Superintendent Joel Hatfield said. "Geothermal really takes advantage of what Mother Nature has left us right here so we're looking at a lot lower operating and maintenance costs."
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