Western to replace HVAC system at high school

Jun. 23—RUSSIAVILLE — Western School Corporation is aiming to replace its more-than-40-year-old HVAC system at the high school next summer.

To do so, the school district will need to take on debt not to exceed $5.8 million. Project cost will be determined in September but estimates are in the $4-million range.

Unlike many other area school-improvement projects, taxpayers are likely to see a small increase in their taxes.

The debt service tax rate will increase by 4 or 5 cents. For a property with an assessed value of $125,000, this would result in an increase of $23.72 annually, according to figures provided by Western. An assessed value of $200,000 is a $45.95 annual increase.

Assistant Superintendent Mark DuBois said the rise in assessed valuation will help keep taxpayer’s tax increase to a minimum.

Jeff Qualkinbush of Barnes & Thornburg, who serves as bond counsel for Western, said property owners who are already at circuit breaker (property tax) caps will not see an increase to their taxes.

The project does not replace debt and instead takes on additional debt. Debt replacement is usually how schools afford multi-million-dollar improvement projects. This is when new debt is taken on when old debt is paid off, which keeps the tax rate the same.

Technically, a building corporation takes on the debt, which is repaid by the school. It keeps a school corporation from being penalized for having too much debt on its books and makes larger projects possible. This is how the majority of school projects are financed.

Western is opting to take on more debt due to the immediate need to replace the high school HVAC system.

The age of equipment — the main system dates back to 1968 — makes any breakdown problematic.

“If it would break or need to be fixed, there are no parts for it,” Qualkinbush said.

This reason, more than any other, is why Western is opting to take on more debt now. The school corporation could wait another six years, until debt is paid off for a previous school improvement project, however, the age of the system and difficulty when it comes to repairs, has moved up the timeline, according to DuBois.

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DuBois said the high school HVAC system is also energy inefficient. It is always on, unlike modern cooling and heating systems that can be controlled with one’s cell phone.

“It’s an antiquated system,” DuBois said.

The new system at the high school will have a mobile control option, along with ventilators and standalone furnaces. This will give teachers more control over how warm or cool they keep their classrooms, instead of a universal temperature for the building. A different system will heat and cool common areas.

“Given that the equipment is so old and running all the time … that’s going to be creating a lot of energy savings,” Qualkinbush said of new equipment.

Performance Services, a Carmel-based construction company, is designing the new system. This will determine the cost of the project and how much energy savings the school will recoup each year. DuBois said a rough estimate given for annual energy savings was $100,000.

Qualkinbush said Western should also save money on maintenance costs since the new HVAC system won’t constantly run.

Western expects to have funds leftover after the HVAC project. These funds are eyed for a new HVAC system at the primary-intermediate building and fixing the roof at the high school.

DuBois admitted they’re not flashy projects but will keep the buildings operating in tip-top shape.

“Where most of your money is spent is above you head, under your feet and behind the walls,” he said.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.