The Clarke County School Board and the County Board of Supervisors joined forces on Monday night to save Clarke County taxpayers $15K in utility fees. The move could also lead to reduced energy costs for the existing Clarke County High School as well.
Clarke County Supervisors chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) went before the School Board last night and gained approval for a modification to a previous offer extended by the School Board earlier this year to provide the County with a “no-cost” utility easement across school property for a natural gas line destined for the planned Active Living Center. Previously the School Board asked the County to cover costs associated with extending the gas line to the current Clarke County High School in exchange for the easement, which reduces the distance required for the gas pipeline.
“As you know, we are poised to construct the Active Living Center” Hobert told the School Board. “Some months ago we looked at natural gas and you graciously agreed to give us a resolution that indicated that you were supportive of providing us an easement. However, at the time, your resolution suggested that you would provide the easement in a quid pro quo in exchange for us [BOS] taking the line to the current high school.”
However, the prior easement option began to fall apart in late November when County officials learned that the cost of running the new natural gas pipeline would cost taxpayers approximately $45K. But after a closer look at the return-on-investment of natural gas pricing over alternative fuels like liquid propane or fuel oil, the Supervisors had a change of heart.
Hobert said at the time of the School Board resolution the Supervisors were undecided on whether to use natural gas in the new facility or not. Since then, Hobert said, an analysis by Clarke County’s Joint Administrative Services team of various fuel costs indicates the payback period for natural gas will be fairly short.
Hobert said that based on the JAS analysis the Supervisors believe that natural gas is the most cost-effective energy source for the Active Living Center. Hobert asked the School Board to modify its resolution and to consider whether extending the natural gas line to the current high school might also save money for the school district.
“We’d like you to provide the utility easement with no strings attached so that we can save the taxpayers some money” Hobert said. “It would also be nice to know your intentions for the current high school in terms of how large the gas line should be.”
Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy said that the school district had already been investigating the benefits of switching to natural gas. Murphy said that preliminary estimates indicated a savings of approximately $35K per year.
“We believe that the return on investment would be fairly quick” Murphy said.
School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) also agreed that natural gas was a viable alternative for the current high school but cautioned that additional cost analysis of boiler replacements, kitchen appliances and other factors are necessary before the school district will have a complete financial picture of the changeover costs.
“Over the long haul I think that this is a good investment” Bouffault said. “But we don’t know what the size of the investment is right now. It’s a question of timing and we can’t guarantee Washing Gas anything right now.”
Murphy said that school district staff and Washington Gas staff are working on a more specific change over cost estimate along with gas consumption estimates. Murphy said that he expected that the figures will be available in the near term.
The School Board unanimously approved an amended resolution to provide the County with a no cost utility easement from Cooley Elementary School to the site of the proposed Active Living Center near the current Clarke County Parks and Recreation Building.
School Board member Barbara Lee (Millwood) was absent for the vote.