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Milton schools look at saving money and saving the earth

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Stacy Vogel
July 10, 2008
— There's no question the Milton School District is interested in building an environmentally friendly high school, district leaders say.

But how do you balance protecting the environment with protecting the taxpayers?


Plunkett Raysich Architects and Miron Construction presented the Milton High School Design Team with a number of "green" options for the proposed new building.


Monday, the design team will make its recommendations to the school board. Those recommendations will include at least two green options, said Bill Wilson, design team chairman.


From the beginning, the design team showed an interest in geothermal technology, he said. Geothermal systems use buried pipes as a heat source or a heat sink, depending on the season, to control building temperatures.


A geothermal system would add about $1.4 million onto the estimated $68 million price for a new high school, but the district could recoup its costs in energy savings in as little as eight years, according to a report from the architects.


The design team toured several schools with geothermal systems, from Fond du Lac High School—the first public high school in the state with geothermal—to newer schools, Wilson said.


"It's a technology that has matured," he said. "It's not chancy at all. And with rising energy costs, even the payback times that we've seen will get shorter."


The design team will recommend the district include a geothermal system in its high school design, Wilson said.


It also will recommend the district reserve part of the roof for a garden at a cost of about $210,000 above the base roof cost, Wilson said. That was the least expensive in several green roof options the architects presented.


The basic design also includes environmentally friendly elements such as natural light. The design even includes a central courtyard to provide more windows to classrooms.


Some have worried that extra windows will let heat escape, but some modern windows can trap heat better than walls, Wilson said.


Studies show students learn better with natural light in the classroom, he said.


Rob Roy, president of the Milton School Board, said the board hasn't yet had much discussion about green options because it hasn't heard the design team's recommendations.


But the board expressed interest in green technology when choosing an architect. The district already chooses energy-efficient windows and heating systems for its existing buildings, Roy said.


"We know that you might have to spend a little bit up front to get a long-term savings, but if you can save money over the long term for the district, that's a wise thing to do," he said.


The school district also has a responsibility to set an example in caring for the environment, Wilson said.


"If we're teaching our kids to care about the environment, it's pretty important for the adults who are spending the money to spend money on responsible things," he said.


IF YOU GO

What: Milton School Board meeting. The Milton High School Design Team will make its recommendations to the school board.


When: 6:30 p.m. Monday.


Where: Milton High School library, 114 W. High St.


NEW HIGH SCHOOL STILL UP FOR DEBATE

The Milton High School Design Team on Monday will present the results of eight months of work when offers recommendations for a new school.


But the question of when and if the district will build the school remains murky.


When the school board voted to move forward on plans for a new high school in August, the district was growing at a rate of 100 students a year and projected even faster growth in coming years.


But since then, two major housing projects in the district have stalled. Economic woes, including last month’s news that the General Motors plant in Janesville will close by the end of 2010, have added to fears the district won’t grow fast enough to fill a new school.


School board members told The Janesville Gazette in June that a referendum won’t take place until at least spring, and possibly later. They said the district has to wait and see how the loss of GM and other local jobs affects the community.


But several said they still believe the district will need a new building in coming years. And the longer the district waits to build, the more expensive construction will be, they said.


GREEN OPTIONS

Plunkett Raysich Architects and Miron Construction presented several “green” options for a new high school to the Milton High School Design Team.


Miron Construction is working on estimates of how long it would take the district to pay off each element and hopes to have the estimates ready for Monday’s meeting, said Craig Uhlenbrauck, Miron vice president of marketing.


Here are the options, what they cost and what they do.


Roof


Base roof: Black membrane roof, $2 million.


White roof:


-- Additional cost: $315,000.


-- What it is: A white roof is a white coating put over the roof, said Theresa Lehman, Miron director of sustainable services. The coating makes the roof reflect heat instead of absorbing it, keeping the building cooler in the summer.


A white roof could be a good idea for a high school because it tends to be used year-round, Lehman said. The roof also can help control temperatures in the winter because equipment, body heat and lights often make a building too warm even in winter.


Garden roof:


-- Additional cost: $6.6 million for the entire roof; $210,000 for a 10,000-square-foot portion.


-- What it is: There are several types of garden roofs, but the one recommended here would be a roof covered by trays of plants, Lehman said. The plants absorb heat and storm water, cooling the building and reducing the need for storm water management.


Because covering the entire roof with a garden is so expensive, the construction company also offered a partial option. In that option, the garden roof probably would serve more as an educational tool than a cooling agent, Uhlenbrauck said.


Heating and air conditioning


Base system: A high-performance conventional system, $6.2 million.


Geothermal:


-- Additional cost: $1.4 million.


-- What it is: Geothermal uses liquid to draw heat or cool air from the earth. Depending on the soil, building materials and energy costs, it can pay for itself in eight to 16 years, Lehman said. The company hopes to have a more precise estimate for Monday’s meeting.


Because geothermal is a renewable energy source, the district might be eligible for grants to help pay for the system, Lehman said.


Ice storage:


-- Additional cost: $177,000.


-- What it is: Ice storage shifts a building’s peak energy use from daytime to nighttime, when utilities charge cheaper rates. Basically, the system creates a block of ice at night that is used to cool the building during the day. Like the white roof, ice storage benefits a building more in the summer than in the winter.


If the district chooses to install a geothermal system, it probably wouldn’t install an ice storage system, Uhlenbrauck said.


Pool


Base system: Standard boiler to heat pool water, $30,000.


Solar heating system:


-- Additional cost: $268,000.


-- What it is: A solar system would collect energy from the sun to heat the pool water. Again, the system probably wouldn’t be necessary if the district goes with a geothermal system, Uhlenbrauck said.



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