With some creative budgeting, school officials are hopeful the new 152,000-square-foot high school in Cortez will include a geothermal mechanical system.
“It’s a highly efficient, earth-friendly system,” said Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District Superintendent Alex Carter. “It would be a smarter building.”
School board members discussed measures to fund the geothermal system for about an hour Tuesday at their monthly meeting. The price tag for the cutting-edge technology is slightly more than $6.5 million, $300,000 more expensive than a traditional heating and cooling system.
Carter explained to board members the geothermal system was projected to pay for itself in 17 years. Considering the new 152,000 square foot school would be used up to 50 years, Carter believes the up-front cost to install a geothermal system would be worth it in the end.
“The ground produces heating and cooling year around,” he said. “It’s better than solar.”
Geothermal energy is thermal energy generated and stored in the earth. Installing a system of conduits into the Earth’s crust, either water or antifreeze passes through the pipe system. In the summer, the liquid moves heat from the building into the ground. In the winter, it does the opposite, providing pre-warmed air and water to the heating system of the building.
School board president Tim Lanier said he believes the geothermal route would be a “smart decision.” Board member Brian Demby also reminded his colleagues that residents requested that the new high school be a “smart building.”
“I don’t know how we don’t do this,” said board member Diane Fox.
While the geothermal system would help support the new school’s LEED Gold Certification, board member Robert Waggoner was hesitant, pointing out future electrical and natural gas costs are unknown.
“Seventeen years is nothing to get the pom-poms out about,” he said. “That’s a long time.”
Projections provided to the school board indicate a 30-year energy savings from a geothermal system are approximately $285,000 and the 30-year mechanical savings are roughly $485,000. Carter said the mechanical savings alone is a no-brainer, considering a new traditional boiler cost upwards of $300,000 to replace.
“We have to make this decision now,” Carter told board members. “We can’t come back and add this later.”
Board members were in consensus to move forward and directed Carter to explore how to budget for the geothermal system, which will include 365 bore holes drilled 300 feet deep into the ground.