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With many schools in the county operating with outdated HVAC systems or other infrastructure, the Cullman County School Board discussed entering into a contract with a company that could develop plan for upgrades to lower energy costs across the system, but decided not to make a decision on the contract during Tuesday’s meeting.

The board discussed the contract with Schneider Electric during a work session before the meeting, and Schneider Electric Sales Team Leader Todd Smith answered some of the questions posed by its members.

If the board enters the contract, Schneider Electric would develop a program for HVAC, lighting and other infrastructure upgrades across the county’s schools that would eventually pay for themselves in energy savings once they were in place.

If Schneider is unable to formulate a plan that would pay for itself, the board would not owe the company any money, but if Schneider came to the board with a program that met all of the board’s specifications and the board elected not to go with that plan, the school system would owe Schneider around $211,000 for the work the company had already completed.

Smith said he couldn’t give an exact number on the costs or savings for the overhaul until the Schneider team begins to take a deeper look at the system’s facilities, but after walking through the system’s schools and seeing some of the work that could be done, he anticipates the projects would result in around $22 million in savings for the system over the next 20 years.

“We know that there’s a very good solution here,” he said. “You’re talking great opportunities in lighting, telecommunications, automated systems and your HVAC.”

As a comparison for costs, Smith pointed to the neighboring Blount County School System, which recently contracted with Schneider to perform $14 million in upgrades to its schools. 

“They tackled a significant amount of HVAC, roofing, windows, ceilings, automation, lighting, telecommunication,” he said. “They have totally transformed their district, and they’re doing fantastic.”

Right now, the county school system spends around $2.5 million on energy costs for the year, and the plan that Schneider develops would likely see those costs reduced by around $800,000 or $900,000 per year, and the company guarantees the cost savings for up to 20 years once the upgrades are in place, he said.

“If you don’t save that money, then we’re responsible to write you a check for the difference,” he said.

The potential for a $211,000 payment to Schneider was a sticking point for board members Kerry Neighbors and Heath Allbright, who expressed concerns about the board committing to paying the company nearly a quarter of a million dollars during uncertain financial times.

“For us, at this time with everything that’s going on in our world, in our school system, half our kids aren’t even there right now,” Allbright said. “For us to enter into an agreement for $211,000 seems absolutely absurd to me at this point.”

If the board moves forward with the program that Schneider creates, the $211,000 cost for the design work would be rolled into the total cost of the project, Smith said. 

Out of the 800 contracts the company has entered into around the country, only around 40 of those have elected not to go with the program once they get the final presentation, Smith said.

“It is very rare that we bring a project that completely meets the needs and someone walks away,” he said.

Neighbors also expressed concerns that Schneider could come back with a plan that meets the criteria of paying for itself while being too expensive for the board to move forward on, which would require the school system to pay the $211,000.

Smith said the program developed by Schneider Electric would be highly customizable and collaborative with the school board and administrators with regular meetings throughout the process to make sure it is moving in the direction that the board wants.

“By the time we get to the final project, everyone’s in alignment,” he said.

Neighbors also asked if the school system could ask Schneider to focus on some of the facilities that are in the worst shape and develop a plan that would just see those schools receive any work.

“Let’s take the top four, top three and let us ease into a relationship with you, instead of diving right in. Is that a possibility?” he asked. 

Smith said the company can develop a plan with phases, but part of the program’s purpose is that small upgrades throughout the system like changing every school to LED lighting would bring cost savings that could then go toward paying for bigger projects like replacing boilers and HVAC systems.

“By doing one school, you’re losing out on so much that you’re spending across the district,” he said.

Board members Mike Graves and Wayne Myrex were not present at the meeting, and the rest of the board agreed to delay any decision until more information could be gathered. 

Smith said he could meet with board members one-on-one and provide additional references from other school systems that have worked with the company, and the board decided to remove the contract’s approval from the meeting’s agenda and return to it on a later date.

The board also elected its officers for 2020-2021, with Shane Rusk being selected as the board’s new president and Kerry Neighbors selected as vice president.

In other business, the board:

Approved 2020-2021 Afterschool Programs and personnel (Personnel paid by local school funds): Parkside- Jeff Greer ($16 an hour) (Correcting per hour from $15 to $16), West Point Elementary- Suzaun Shell ($20 an hour).

Approved the following tutors effective Oct. 19, paid $25 an hour for virtual, afterschool and traditional Title I, paid by federal programs, Title I school allocation and GEERS: Good Hope Elementary- Melanie Haynes.

Approved a request from Vinemont High School to pay the following from local school funds: Crystal Mayo- $660 for work with volleyball concessions, Lance Lay and Kerry Thompson- $300 each for refinishing the gym floors.

Approved September 2020 financial statements.

Approved September 2020 bills and salaries in the amount of $10,411,923.30.

Approved Maintenance Department’s public works projects: West Point- Eddy House demo- $6,400 by Clyde Hooten & Sons Excavating, Vinemont- Old Wallpaper Building demo- $6,000 by Greg Garmon Excavating.

Approved a request to declare 2006 Ford E-350 van surplus and for the Maintenance Department to publicly bid and accept the highest bid to sell the vehicle.

Approved the Cullman County Schools 2021-2022 School Calendar.

Approved a request from Dr. Anita Kilpatrick, Textbook Coordinator, of the entire list of the state-adopted textbooks list for math textbooks as recommended by the local school textbook committee.

Approved a request for the 2020-2021 Math 6-12 Textbook Committee.

Approved the following revised board policies: 3.8-OMP Part 200- Purchasing; 4.3-Accreditation; 5.14- Employees Sexual Harassment; 6.8- Equal Educational Opportunities; 6.10- Student Sexual Harassment.

Approved a request for the Media & Communications Specialist Salary Schedule.

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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