Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

To Air or Not To Air, That is the $1 Million Dollar Elmbrook Question

Elmbrook, Energy

Elmbrook may tap reserves for projects tonight after the Annual Meeting at 7pm*, at Brookfield El. What are the projects? The HVAC replacement, including air conditioning, at Pilgrim Park Middle School and some SmartBoards for some elementary schools. (*Actually, the budget hearing is at 7pm, the Annual Meeting is at 8pm.)

In an era of rising energy prices, I just cannot justify the cost to convert to and operate air conditioning our schools. I know the majority of Elmbrook voters disagreed with me on that since they just approved the $62+ million dollar referendum for the high schools--a significant portion going toward the air conditioning conversion and air conditioning gym areas. It still seems like a waste of tax dollars to me.

The commercials run by WE energies stating that Wisconsin pays 7% less than the national average for electric costs don't make me feel better about these HVAC decisions. My dad had a colorful saying about being better than the average, he would say, "He's/it's a little better than the average, but the average ain't so good!" Telling me I pay 7% less does little to ease the pain that occurs every time I look at my utility bill. Despite our efforts to cut back, the price keeps going up.

I think we all know that bigger utility bills are the shape of things to come. So why switch to a system that commits us to those higher bills now? It is hardly like money is growing on trees.

We have been told by the district that Elmbrook faces a $1 - 1.5 million dollar shortfall each year because of declining enrollments. Plus, there is that unfunded retirement liability lurking in the near future.

The district may try to sell the idea of air conditioning costs as being affordable. I seem to remember that they said the utility costs per square foot for Brookfield El. and Dixon actually went down compared to the old school buildings. Of course that was the per square foot cost.

Considering that the old schools probably still had the very inefficient florescent lighting and ballasts that use about a third more* electricity than the newer models, and the Univent valves all probably leaked (heating), it makes perfect sense that the per square foot cost went down in the new building. As it stands now, we are not saving the money from the increased efficiency in those schools but spending the savings on air conditioning.

The cost estimate to do install the air conditioning at Pilgrim is $1 million dollars. This is on top of the $3 mil. for boiler upgrades/replacements. One thing I learned from speaking with an expert in the HVAC field is that even if they can use the same pipes for the cold water as they do for the hot water heat, those pipes still need to be insulated. That means that each wall and ceiling the pipes run through need to be opened to install the insulation. Without insulation, the pipes sweat and drip into the walls and ceilings causing mold and damage. 

If it were my home, I would put the money into windows that opened from the top and bottom. That way, hot air off the ceiling vents out, and cooler outside air comes in from the bottom. I would install ceiling fans in most rooms and exhaust fans in the rooms that over heat.

For the few days that we have hot weather while school is still in session, I think proper ventilation would suffice. But then, those improvements would be because I was spending MY money, not someone else's (taxpayers).

We will see what this board does with this air conditioning question. Some on the board members are fiscally more responsible. Why, I heard Glen Allgaier ask at the budget intro meeting if we were going to use any of the 4K budget windfall to help offset some of our coming debt. (Good idea.) I think the answer was, No.


*Sorry, I cannot find my notes, but I think 1/3 is pretty close to correct. If I find my notes, I will post a correction.  

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