Last year the Tamaqua Area School District embarked on an energy savings plan that included the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system at Tamaqua Area High School.

The district now has the opportunity to take the program a step further, which could include projects such as renovations to the high school locker rooms and installing a geothermal system at Tamaqua Elementary School.

Shayne Homan of McClure Inc., Harrisburg, a subsidiary of PPL Energy Services, provided an update on the guaranteed energy savings program during the Tamaqua Area Board of Education's committee meetings Tuesday evening.

During the program's first year of operation, Homan said that McClure "basically dismantled the high school" while installing the geothermal system during the summer months in 2009. "We experienced more operating issues than expected."

That included having some of the valves on the geothermal units fail during the peak heating season, which created a false "limp" in the system, but Homan said the problem has been resolved.

In the middle and elementary schools, McClure retrofitted the existing electronic controls, which did not require replacing the main equipment, piping or ductwork, which was done at the high school, but did save energy in those buildings overall. The middle school system required an additional 5,000 gallons of heating oil, because the system was also tied into the district's gym and pool.

For the period from September 2009 through this past August, McClure had projected a savings of $134,663 for the district through the energy improvements. Homan said McClure actually measured a savings of $193,629, which was a surplus of $58,966.

Homan then provided a list of areas for phase two of potential upgrades for the district. Tamaqua Area Facilities Manager Arthur Oakes Jr. mentioned Homan developed the list after discussions with district officials.

"Tamaqua Elementary School is the next best candidate for geothermal," said Homan. "That would eliminate oil usage and replace a 35 year-old system."

Some other areas the district might realize savings through energy improvements included the renovations of the high school locker rooms; district-wide plumbing upgrades; working with a solar heating system for the high school pool; district-wise energy upgrades; the installation of film on high school windows; and replacing the chiller unit at West Penn Elementary School, possibly by relocating the chiller from Tamaqua Elementary.

Homan also mentioned implementing a program called SEE (Schools for Energy Efficiency), specifically designed for the K-12 market, which would include hiring personnel by the district to oversee the energy program. It was estimated that participating in SEE would cost about $30,000, providing two managers for 20 hours per week.

The total cost of the phase two upgrades would be about $2.5 million, which could drop to $2.1 million to be financed, after rebates. The program can now be extended to 20 years instead of 15, Homan said, and would be budget neutral with the savings the district would realize.

The district has been considering renovating the girls locker rooms at the high school. Homan said McClure has worked with MM Architects, Lancaster, which could provide design plans for the locker rooms, either as part of a second phase of the energy savings program or separately.

It would cost between $30,000 and $35,000 to contract with MM Architects for the design work, but the district would also retain the option to put the design work out to bid on an individual basis, independent of McClure's work.

Homan said the best option for the locker rooms would cost an estimated $500,000, including full demolition, floor cutting, mechanical work and plumbing. It would have to be determined if the lockers would include an open, group shower room or individual shower stalls. The difference between options would be about $50,000, he added.

"Even $450,000 is ludicrous," said Board President Larry A. Wittig. Homan said McClure could get more than one figure on the renovations.

In order to move forward at this point, the board would need to consider whether to contract with MM Architects for the design on the locker rooms, as well as to provide $8,500 for test borings for a geothermal system at Tamaqua Elementary.

"The longer we wait, we may miss the opportunity," said Board Treasurer Daniel E. Schoener, who chairs the district's finance committee.

"It may be prudent to shop around for architectural services," remarked Wittig.

Asked about the timeline, Homan said McClure is looking to sign a contract with the district for phase two by Spring, 2011, in order to implement large scale improvements the following summer.