The Tamaqua Area School District is moving forward on a proposal to add geothermal heating to Tamaqua and West Penn Elementary schools.

In addition, the district is planning to renovate the boys and girls locker rooms at the high school.

On Tuesday evening the district's board of education authorized McClure Company, Harrisburg, with a notice to proceed for the projects, which includes a continuation of engineering, securing final funding and coordinating and soliciting locker room renovation general construction bids.

The price for these services is not to exceed $30,000, which is already included in the total project cost of $6 million.

School Board President Larry A. Wittig noted that the approval of the Notice to Proceed does not lock the district into the project at this point. It will allow McClure to move ahead with the confirmation and pricing of bids for the locker room renovations and to execute an amendment to its performance contract with the district.

McClure Company is a subsidiary of PPL Energy Savings, Harrisburg, which has worked with the district on a Guaranteed Energy Savings plan that has included the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system at the high school.

The district is currently looking at implementing phase two of that energy savings plan, which includes adding geothermal systems to Tamaqua and West Penn Elementary.

Shayne Homan of McClure told the board Tuesday that a test boring was successfully completed at West Penn Elementary, with the results favorable for the addition of the geothermal system. McClure had similar positive results at Tamaqua Elementary, he noted.

Homan said that for phase one of the plan, which included a total investment of $4.2 million, PPL Energy Savings had guaranteed an annual savings of $210,703 for the first year, based on contractural energy rates. The actual measured savings for the first year was $253,268, exceeding those projections by $42,565.

The scope of work for phase two has been adjusted and includes geothermal HVAC systems for Tamaqua and West Penn Elementary; the locker room renovations; converting the high school pool heating to geothermal domestic hot water; temperature system upgrades to the middle school; pipe insulation upgrades at West Penn; the sealing of building doors, windows, curbs and roof to wall edges, district-wide; the installation of film on high school classroom windows; and implementing a district-wide behavorial energy program, which is an educational component of the plan.

McClure is proposing the district invest $6,003,347 into phase two, which includes $544,235 for the locker rooms, as well as $1,375,00 in the replacement of avoided capital, which includes major equipment, such as boilers, pumps and chillers, which it claims would need to be replaced within a five year period.

Homan said McClure could obtain financing from a potential lender, Hutchinson, Shockey, Erley and Company, for a 20-year term at an interest rate of 3.88 percent. At that rate, the district's annual lease payment would be $472,136 for 15 years, he added.

Those costs could be offset if McClure can obtain grant funding through the state's Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). Homan said applications have been submitted to DCED for a low interest geothermal loan of $420,000 at one percent interest for 10 years, as well as a $340,000 grant for modifying the existing energy savings agreement with the district.

The district is striving to have the plan be budget neutral, with any money budgeted towards the project offset by potential savings.

Business manager Connie Ligenza noted that for the first year of phase one with the high school, the plan achieved budget neutrality immediately. Phase two would require the district to appropriate the funds up front for the payment for the first 15 years.

"We are looking at a budget as tight as a drum now," said Wittig. "As far as our budget is concerned, we have to look at cash in and funding that."

"The question is, how do we fund that?" asked Board Treasurer Daniel E. Schoener.

"The energy savings are certainly for real," said Ligenza. "If you do nothing, you are going to pay more money on oil. You would be spending the money on energy instead of debt service."

The board also heard a presentation from Anthony Colestock, an architect for Crabtree Rohrbaugh and Associates, Mechanicsburg, regarding the potential locker room renovations.

The renovations are being zoned into three areas, with a physical education office, shower and dressing areas. Space would also be created for game officials to use as a changing area; for years, referees have used the high school faculty lounge as their dressing room.

The physical education office would also include a windowed wall in order for teachers to have a view of the locker area, said Colestock.

The shower area would move away from group showers towards including individual stalls, to encourage students to shower after classes and sporting events.

Superintendent Carol Makuta noted that handicapped accessibility is a major component of the project, including ADA-compliant shower stalls.

Colestock said the construction costs would range between $250,000 and $350,000. McClure's budget for the project is over $544,000 and would cover all costs.