Klockenbrink: The $3.2M Question

Submitted by Myra Klockenbrink, Member of Greenwich Sustainability Committee

School District leaders are flummoxed. They have to reduce their annual budget by $3.2 million and they don’t know how they are going to do it. “It’s a challenge,” says Superintendent Toni Jones.

Maybe. It could be fairly straightforward. Facilities has asked for exactly that amount to replace the Hamilton Avenue School geothermal HVAC system with a gas-fired system to the tune of $3.2 million.

Instead of shortchanging “our youngest and most vulnerable students,” the District could restore the Hamilton Avenue School geothermal HVAC and follow the recommendation of the engineers who were hired to analyze why it failed in the first place.

Their report recommended GPS rehab the geothermal system as the most cost effective and energy efficient option since the geothermal wells on the site are sound.

While the District is at it, install geothermal HVAC into the brand new Central Middle School and save another $3.2 million over the gas-fired HVAC the building committee has made the mistake to approve, in spite of the fact that geothermal HVAC is cheaper and infinitely more cost effective to run.

Rebates from the federal Inflation Reduction Act funds will pay for 50 percent of the project. After that, go to the state and show them the shining new geothermal system that is a model for other school districts and get bonus funds. The district will come out ahead of the game.

Now, you are talking real money!

This fiscal year, GPS will pay an additional $300,000 to fuel its HVAC systems with natural gas on top of the $910,350 paid last year and taken out of our school budgets. Not to mention the $13 million we have spent on school energy costs in the last five years, according to the Energy Management Committee 2022 Annual Report.

These numbers say nothing about the costs to upgrade the failing HVAC systems in most of our schools. Last year we committed $20 million to upgrade Greenwich High School gas-fired boiler with cooling towers and a chiller cooling system, and another $8 million of Federal ARPA grants that went into school and town property HVAC systems.

We have two golden opportunities to save millions of dollars for our school systems that could go to the mountain of other school infrastructure needs. Geothermal HVAC systems that don’t depend on natural gas will save us millions of dollars of operating costs now and into the future. Geothermal systems are 80 percent more energy efficient than natural gas systems and don’t subject our budgets to volatile and escalating natural gas prices.

All we need is leadership. To our Board of Education and to the members of our Board of Estimate and Taxation: Stop throwing good money after bad and start investing in renewable energy systems for our schools. Do not leave millions of dollars on the table. Install geothermal in Ham Ave and Central Middle schools, fill out the IRS form required to get a check from the federal government and do the right thing for our kids’ health and education.

Get involved. Let our leadership know you want them to stop wasting our tax dollars and start making smarter, fiscally responsible and future-oriented decisions.