Energy savings gather steam at 3 Sylvania schools

Geothermal power touted as sustainable system

Geothermal heating and cooling systems installed at three new Sylvania elementary schools are expected to pay for themselves.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems installed at three new Sylvania elementary schools are expected to pay for themselves.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems installed in Sylvania’s three new elementary schools should pay for themselves in energy savings sooner than previously expected, a school district spokesman said last week.

“We are showing that our return will be sooner than anticipated for the first two schools,” said Nancy Crandell, the school system’s communications director, referring to Hill View and Maplewood schools, which were completed in 2010 and 2011, respectively. How soon the earlier return will be realized is not yet known.

It is also too soon to know how quickly a similar system in the new Central Trail Elementary on Mitchaw Road, which opened in January to replace an 80-year-old building on Central Avenue, will pay for itself, Ms. Crandell said. The mechanical contract cost for Central Trail was $1,959,000.

Geothermal power is being touted as a sustainable system that pollutes less and consumes less energy than traditional heating and cooling methods. Although its upfront cost exceeds that of traditional systems, its lower operating cost typically recovers that expense within 10 years, and Ms. Crandell said that for Hill View and Maplewood — which also replaced older buildings — that return now is forecast to be much sooner.

Sylvania-based JDRM engineered the design for all three buildings. According to their founder, Steve Morris, geothermal heat is becoming popular with area schools. In the last 10 years JDRM has designed about 16 geothermal heating systems in area schools.

“The system used at Central Elementary was an 80-year-old system, so it was like comparing apples to oranges to figure out the Central Trail’s reduced carbon footprint,” Mr. Morris said.

According to JDRM, heat pump systems like Central Trail’s use 11 percent less energy and reduce costs by about 14.5 percent compared with typical climate-control systems in modern schools.

Geothermal technology taps natural energy in the earth, which has a nearly constant temperature of about 50 degrees at 10 feet below the surface, regardless of the season. Pipes installed in holes drilled into the ground contain a liquid solution that transfers heat from the ground during the colder months and into the ground during the warmer months.

The traditional system schools use to adjust temperatures, for example, a boiler and air-cooled chiller fans to extract heat, use more energy than the geothermal systems, which have compressors out in the field.

Besides reducing carbon footprints, Mr. Morris said, the technology produces less noise since it has no fans, and the use of building space for boilers or air-handling equipment is eliminated.

“In the beginning at the school grounds, it looked like a bomb went off because of all the digging. In the end the only trace of what lies beneath is a manhole,” Mr. Morris said.