County to reap benefits of building upgrades

Energy performance contract with Johnson Controls slated to save millions

Originally published in The Athens News for the “Energy Action” column – By: Mathew Roberts


As the Athens County community awaits the call for finalists in the nationwide Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP), the County government is finalizing improvements made in county-owned buildings that will greatly reduce the amount of energy used at vital community service centers.

To capture the benefits of these improvements, the County signed a performance contract last fall with Johnson Controls, a lead sponsor of the GUEP, which guarantees that the energy savings over time will cover the up-front payment issued to fund the upgrades.

Johnson Controls, a multi-national leader in industrial technology, has been committed from the beginning in helping the Athens County future be more productive, more secure, and more sustainable.

“They’ve (Athens County Commissioners) been very good to work with,” notes Russell Baumann, Johnson Controls lead project manager for Athens County’s upgrades, “and as agreed upon, we’ve been able to work with local contractors as much as possible to get the job done right and on time.”

Some of those local contractors include Southeastern Electric and Geiger Brothers, Inc., who have both served the Southeast Ohio area for at least 30 years.

After calculating the most energy-intensive buildings and agencies under the care of the County government, a comprehensive plan was put forth for Commissioners’ approval in heating and cooling upgrades at the Department of Job and Family Services, the Sheriff’s building, the Courthouse Annex, and the City-County Health Department, complete with LED lighting retrofits for all county-owned buildings.

As approved by the Athens County Commissioners, Athens County expects to reap over $2.1 million in utility and operations savings over the next 20 years, as outlined in the contract. Additionally, the County may be able to secure rebates from AEP Ohio, the regional utility, for replacing old appliances with new ones and will save addition money in avoiding regular maintenance and sporadic capital improvements.

Charlie Brown, Athens County’s building superintendent, said in an interview that, “At some point this equipment needed to be replaced. When you can bundle these projects together under one job, it’s pretty significant to avoid the costs of regular maintenance.”

Before the work got started, which was sometime last December, many of the County buildings were leaky and wasteful. Bundling the projects as one not only helped saved on the overall costs, but it allowed the County to upgrade other much needed functions – such as getting new back-up generators for 911 service, emergency lighting, and roughly $300,000 worth of elevator servicing upgrades.

“Overall I’m pretty excited… it has been a foot race, but we’re running a good schedule,” says Brown, “I don’t think this could have come at a better time.” And Brown is right – past winters at the Job and Family Services historical building had forced employees to open windows, bringing chilly air into spaces where an old boiler was generating much more heat than was needed.

To reconcile, Johnson Controls led an effort to replace the building’s air handling system by installing new, high-efficiency boilers and chillers to bring appropriate temperature air to the working day. To keep the temperature steady, the contractors wrapped a 2-inch think insulation blanket around the chiller-systems and the duct work to ensure a reliable flow of air.

The main challenge in that job was the small doors and entrances typically seen on historical buildings. “We had to knock down the systems to move-able parts and then re-assemble. Only 10% of jobs have these restrictions – from getting component pieces through doors to full approval from the State in making upgrades at historical sites,” said Baumann.

Today the County project is around 60% complete with the LED lighting nearly done in all buildings. Geiger Brothers, Inc., the primary HVAC contractors in the collaboration, are also finishing new HVAC and condensing unit installs at the Courthouse and are installing a ductless, mini-split heat pump system at the City-County Health Department building on Union Street.

As minor issues arise, everyone involved has a seat at the table during regular bi-weekly job meetings to make the project run smoothly.

“I’m proud that the commissioners have been able to make this significant investment into county buildings. This will have positive outcomes for Athens County taxpayers, Athens County employees in these buildings, local businesses involved in the installation and the global environment by reducing our need for energy,” says Athens County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, “I think this is a great example of a win-win project, being positive both economically and environmentally.”