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Dist. 861 gets set straight on SHPO grant (10/21/2012)
By Sarah Squires

The Winona Area Public School Board approved $1.5 million in energy-saving projects for the Senior High School and Jefferson Elementary, part of a package that should pay for itself with reduced energy bills over the next 15 years.


Administrators have said that Jefferson Elementary was examined for energy-saving projects before other district buildings because the district received a grant for boiler replacement at the school. Because many of the energy-saving projects involve the heating and ventilation system at the school, it would make sense to do those upgrades at the same time as the boiler is replaced. On Tuesday, board members learned that the grant was for a steam system, rather than a hot-water boiler that would work more efficiently with the planned upgrades. Building and Grounds Director Bill O’Laughlin was hard-pressed to recall the name of the agency that had granted the funds, but later said it was a Minnesota Historical Society Capital Project grant. Board member Steve Schild wondered whether switching to a more modern and efficient hot-water boiler would mean the district would lose its $70,000 boiler grant. He said a more efficient system might put the grant in jeopardy because it wouldn’t be similar to the original boiler put into the school.

The grant is made up of federal dollars administered by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), said grant specialist John Fulton. He explained the grant does not require the district to install an old, “historic,” antiquated boiler system, that there is no requirement that a building owner install old and inefficient heating systems in order to use the money.

In fact, he said, a grant for a historic building such as this is made to help building owners maintain those structures, and to improve efficiency, which can ultimately help keep buildings intact. “We would not force them to have an inefficient boiler. If they have a good plan we want to help them meet their mission,” said Fulton. “Improving a heating system helps in a lot of different ways. It helps in energy costs and so money can be saved for other purposes. They’re going to see the building as easier to maintain if they don’t have to spend as much money on it.”

While grants for projects to the exteriors of historic buildings may require that components retain historic qualities, Fulton said that is not the goal of a grant to help with a heating component like a boiler. His office is concerned with whether a project would require walls to be demolished or any other structural changes in the building. If the hot-water boiler doesn’t require the district to change the building any more than the original plan for the steam boiler did, there shouldn’t be any problem, said Fulton.

He said SHPO would like to hear about the district’s change of plans, since district staff had not yet contacted the SHPO office.

Concerning the confusion around the SHPO grant for the boiler, Fulton said his and other historic agencies in the state work hard to educate the public about how these incentive programs for historic buildings really work. “We certainly don’t have any policy of putting inefficient equipment into buildings,” he said. “Unfortunately there’s a lot of education that we have to do about what our mission is, too.”

Energy Savings Group (ESG), the firm overseeing the projects, has guaranteed the energy savings that would pay for the projects, so if the dollars don’t add up, the company will cover any overage cost as part of the contract.

The remaining Dist. 861 buildings for other potential energy saving projects, such as upgrades to HVAC systems, lights, and water fixtures. The findings on the other buildings will be presented to the board in the spring.

In addition to the projects that would pay for themselves over 15 years through reduced energy costs, the firm has proposed several other building upgrades that could be pursued at the same time. For Jefferson Elementary and the Senior High School alone, the firm presented additional upgrade options that would cost from $13 million to $15 million. The board is expected to look at the additional projects at an April 2013 briefing.



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