Union Local BOE targets improvements

BELMONT-More positive changes are on tap for Union Local schools. The board of education heard two proposals at its Thursday evening meeting and voted to move forward with one.

Bob Houseman of Energy Optimizers USA presented his company’s ideas for facility improvements that would provide substantial energy savings to the district and are eligible for Ohio’s House Bill 264 Energy Conservation Program for schools. HB264 provides loan funds for energy upgrades and updates to equipment and fixtures without any tax increases. Energy Optimizers conducted an evaluation on the Union Local campus and came up with a plan addressing lighting, the HVAC system and IT equipment.

All exterior lighting will be replaced with state of the art LED, and all interior fixtures in each of the schools will be redone and enhanced through better design. This will reduce the number of lamps in use and decrease the wattage on the lamps from 32 to 28 while increasing the brightness. Some rooms will have motion sensors that will turn lights on and off.

Union Local’s HVAC system will be revamped with new controls and real-time meters, allowing more efficient management of the programs. Pony boilers will be installed at all three schools to elevate energy efficiency to 95 to 98 percent. These additions will be able to run up to 100 percent of the HVAC load during the spring, fall and temporarily in emergencies if the main boilers fail. Pump drivers will be installed on the boilers to help with heat distribution. At the high school, gel-type temperature controls will be installed in the walk-in coolers and freezers.

The company has included specs for thin, energy efficient flat screen monitors, where needed, for the computer labs. Houseman said that the proposal includes inspections by Energy Optimizers for two years to make sure that the equipment is running properly, and they will also educate UL staff on the management of the equipment and programs.

Currently Union Local High School and Middle School have annual electric and HVAC expenses totaling $160,155. The elementary school spends $82,810 annually on these expenses. While the district has taken steps to increase efficiency, this opportunity will save even more money even after the cost of the loan. The analysis provided by Energy Optimizers states that, following their recommendations, the district could expect annual savings of $56,120 in electric and natural gas expenses, $15,700 in maintenance and operations expenses and $11,590 in fuel costs-a total of $71,820. The annual project/loan payment to be paid over 9.44 years is estimated at $57,010, based on a project cost of $722,730.

Energy Optimizers guarantees that Union Local will have the additional $14,810 in savings, and that number could increase depending on fluctuating energy costs, milder winters than last and the ability to manage the new program more efficiently than planned.

Treasurer Janet Hissrich told board members that she found their estimates “right on” with previous numbers and that she has no qualms about working with Energy Optimizers.

“I talked with six other districts who have used Energy Optimizers, and most of their savings have come in higher than expected,” added Superintendent Doug Thoburn. “The crews work at night, and districts remarked on how quick and clean they are. They were all very positive comments.”

Board members voted unanimously to move ahead with the project. All plans and analyses must be reviewed by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for approval, and the OFCC will be overseeing the project. In four years of operation, Energy Optimizers has completed over $41 million in HB264 projects for 65 school districts without issuing a change order, including schools in Bridgeport, Cambridge and Belpre. The estimated project completion date is May 2015.

Sgt. Kyle Benedict of the Belmont County Drug Task Force informed board members about a new anti-drug program the Task Force is promoting. The Drug-Free Club of America is a national program for high school students that rewards them for staying drug free. Chief John McFarland, commander of the Drug Task Force, says that Belmont County would be the first county in this area of Ohio to participate.

Benedict explained that parents authorize their children’s membership in the program and pay $60 to cover the costs of drug tests and ID cards. Confidential drug tests are administered with the school’s assistance. As long as the students test negative for drugs they will be eligible for special offers from local businesses by showing the ID cards. For instance, they may receive discounts on movie tickets, pizzas or salon services. The school could also offer discounted sports tickets or free time opportunities. A school liaison officer would help with testing and membership drives and processing.

Locally heroin is a growing concern, and the Task Force is hoping to enlist every Belmont County high school into the program. Benedict noted that some assistance may be available for students whose families cannot afford the membership fee. Should a student test positive during the year, the lab will contact a parent to discuss the results and a course of action. Benedict stressed that all drug tests are kept highly confidential from the schools and the police.

Should Union Local elect to join the program, information will be distributed to parents at the beginning of the school year.

Thoburn informed the board that the Spring OEA report card results were released this week for the third grade. Union Local students scored an 88 percent in Reading, up 4 percent from last year, and they scored 82 percent in Math, up 1 percent from last year. He congratulated students and teachers on their accomplishment.

“On behalf of the board, I would like to say thank you to the elementary school teachers for their dedication,” added Dean Lancaster, board president. “The board is pleased with the efforts of the students and the faculty.”

Larry Compston, Union Local music and choir instructor, told board members that UL’s 32 member choir attended and competed in the “High Note Festival” on May 16 at Carnegie Mellon University. He said he was proud of the way they represented the district and that they received an “excellent” rating in the competition, only “a couple points shy of superior.” He added that the students attended a music history event in Cleveland and that he wanted to commend the bus drivers for both trips, saying that they were “very professional.”

The Union Local Board of Education meets the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. in the high school library. Hissrich has called a special board meeting for Friday, June 27, at 10 a.m. in the central office to conduct the district’s annual financial closeout.

Valenti can be reached at gvalenti@timesleaderonline.com.