Holmes’ geothermal project nearing

       The geothermal heating/cooling project for Holmes Middles School is moving forward basically according to plan, the public was told at a presentation at the school Feb. 27.
       The system will be the main item in roughly $3.1 million in upgrades planned this summer at the school on Mesa Road. The money is coming from a voter-approved, district-wide bond issue for building improvements.
       An engineering firm, Farris Engineering, has been visiting the school and meeting with D-11 Facilities officials for the past several months to develop a design plan, according to Rick La Rose, the District 11 engineer assigned to be project manager.
       Plans call for starting in early April to bore the 112 holes for the system's underground pipes - they will go beneath the field just east of the school buildings - then implement the system installation when Holmes' school year ends May 16, he said.
       A bid ($499,000) has already come in very close to the district's budget for the hole drilling. Regarding the installation, after an initial bid invitation attracted just one bid (which was much too high), the district has been able to increase its budget by about $200,000 and will be putting out a request for proposals for $2.39 million, La Rose explained.
       This is not an unusual sort of occurrence, he said, adding he is “very confident” that an adequate bid will be submitted in time for approval at the March 21 school board meeting.
       Much of the presentation was spent explaining the geothermal (also called geoexchange) process, by which water is run through an underground pipe network to be cooled or heated (depending on the season) by the temperatures in the earth, then used for climate control in the school. Features include more fresh air, the equivalence of air-conditioning in warm weather, energy efficiency, low maintenance and the capability to heat or cool specific parts of the school, as needed. The up- front cost is higher than that for a typical boiler-driven heating system, but the geothermal system should pay for itself within just a few years, according to Thomas Fernandez, the district's energy manager.
       The district was one of the first entities in the region to install such a system, for its then-new Facilities Operations Center in 1998. To this day, the system “exceeds energy performance expectations,” Fernandez reported.
       La Rose stressed for parents that the student's safety will be foremost in the project. The drilling area will be fenced off, and contractor workers must wear badges and report to the school office before starting work.
       Looking forward to the upgrade and thinking about educational opportunities with the drilling work occuring while school is in session, Holmes Principal Brenda LeBrasse said she is thinking about setting up on-site field trips to let the students get a supervised look at that phase of the project.

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