Kalispell schools looking at energy efficiency to cut costs

Flathead High School's steam boiler, installed in 1986 will be supplemented by hot water heat in an effort to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Flathead High School’s steam boiler, installed in 1986 will be supplemented by hot water heat in an effort to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

One of Kalispell’s oldest schools has been looking for a way to pay for upgrades to its heating and cooling system that will also increase its energy efficiency. Voters have rejected three different building reserve fund requests in the past three years. The building reserve funds pay for maintenance of district buildings, and for technology updates and upgrades. Superintendent Darlene Shottle said with voters rejecting the schools request for these funds three times in three years, it was time to find another way.

“So we felt that the community was saying, ‘we can’t afford this right now,’ and we need to look at more innovative ways to try to do some of the building upgrades that needed to be done,” Shottle said Flathead High School is of particular concern with classroom’s either too warm, too cold, or water was leaking in through the roof.

The district hired Ameresco to conduct an energy audit, and implement the energy efficiency fixes. Some of those fixes include installing a hot water heat system to supplement the steam boiler system currently heating the building.             Upgrading lights to lower wattage bulbs, and familiar weatherization efforts like sealing cracks around doors, windows, and insulating are other changes planned.

Shottle said they’re looking at more than $3-million in improvements across the district, with more than $2-million just for Flathead High School.

The school district will receive a $1.2-million “Quality School Grant” from the state to address the Flathead High energy upgrades, and is taking out a loan for the total upgrade costs.

“We’re estimating that about $130,000 per year will be paid back through energy savings, and so we will pay back between the difference of the quality school grant and the amount of money we need to do the upgrades through the energy savings,” Shottle said another option they’re looking at is QZAB bonds. She said they’re zero interest federal loans specifically for maintenance and upgrades of school buildings.

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