North Ridgeville schools get loan to improve energy efficiency

By: Steve Fogarty
The Chronicle-Telegram | Chronicleonline | Originally published 10/23/2015

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The spotlight has been firmly fixed on the school system’s new $58.1 million middle school and sports complex for the past few years.

But now that construction is finally underway on the 223,000-square-foot school, administrators and school board members also are looking to undertake some $2.8 million in upgrades for the city’s four other schools that will remain once the new building is completed for the 2017-18 school year.

The new school is being designed with the latest state-of-the-art systems for energy efficient lighting, heating and air conditioning, but the district’s four other buildings, including the high school, are in need of definite upgrades in those areas, according to William Greene, assistant superintendent for business services.

The district recently selected the Middleburg Heights firm of Brewer-Garrett to oversee the design and bidding specifications for energy improvements in the city’s four schools that are being kept once the new middle school opens.

Plans call for Wilcox Elementary, the current middle school on Center Ridge Road dating to the 1920s, and the Early Childhood Learning Center at Fields-Sweet School, portions of which date to the early 1900s, to be torn down once the new third through eighth grade school opens.

Children from Wilcox and Fields-Sweet will be shifted to the North Ridgeville Education Center on Mills Creek Lane, and the district’s two remaining elementary buildings.

Some of the major changes at those buildings will see long-used fluorescent lighting tubes replaced with LED lighting.

“Anything is better than what we have now,” Greene said. “These improvements are long overdue.”

The district anticipates annual energy savings in reduced electricity and natural gas usage to average $89,000 a year, according to Treasurer Michael Verlingo.

Exterior lighting will also be upgraded to boost security in school parking lots and playgrounds, which can lead to the use of security cameras, which the schools lack, Greene said.

In addition to new rooftop heating and air conditioning systems, each building will also be outfitted with back-up boilers.

“If a boiler breaks down, now we have to cancel school, but by putting a second boiler in, we can keep going,” Greene said.

The decision to get new boilers was sparked in part by the extreme cold and harsh weather conditions of the past two winters — even though officials hope this winter will not be a repeat of the last two.

New water meters offering more accurate readings are also expected to reduce water bills, according to Verlingo.

Rebates totaling around $60,000 will also be readily available for each new boiler, Verlingo said.

To pay for all of these energy-saving steps, the school district will borrow $3.8 million over a 10-year period from JP Morgan Chase at an annual interest rate of 1.99 percent, according to Verlingo.

School officials opted to go with private financing rather than a state-operated program that lends money at low interest for energy efficiency projects because the privately-financed loan offered a better interest rate, Verlingo said.

“And with the state there are other requirements that have to be met before you can begin work, and we know that the state takes time to approve things,” Verlingo said.

Those approvals could have delayed the start of work for months.

While the lion’s share of work involves increased energy efficiency, some money will also be spent for other renovations at the four schools, all of which date to the early 1960s.

“We are essentially getting the loan in anticipation of borrowing against the future (tax) revenue stream from our permanent improvements levy proceeds, which total a little over $800,000 a year,” Verlingo said.

Some work, such as installing new lighting, should begin this winter, while other portions of the project including putting in new heat and air conditioning systems will likely get underway next spring, Greene said.