Geothermal climate control for Washington

       Washington Elementary will become the second District 11 building to get a “geo-exchange” heating/ cooling system - which uses the temperatures hundreds of feet below the earth's surface to regulate building air - as part of the school's reconstruction project next summer.
       Preliminary information about the system was part of the initial public meeting Aug. 28 on Washington's $1.6 million bond issue project next summer.
       There is no plan to close the school for the work. Although the project is expected to take 13 weeks - and summer vacation is only 10 - the hope is to economize time in different ways to get the work done with few if any educational impacts, explained District 11 project manager K.C. Keen.
       Principal Terry Martinez is putting together a committee of school parents and supporters to work with himself, Keen and a hired architect to fine-tune plans in the months ahead.
       Basic plans call for the 8,831-square-foot east wing of the 29,209-square-foot school to receive the most attention. Built in the early '70s in an open-classroom style, it will be essentially gutted and rebuilt with permanent interior walls. The main reason is fire safety for students; the new layout will include corridors with one-hour fire/smoke-rated walls, architect Bryan Keys said.
       All parts of the school will be affected by the installation of the geo-exchange heating/cooling system (also called a ground source heat pump system), Keen explained. The “geo” comes from the word geothermal - tied to the system's technology, in which a closed-loop pipe arrangement transfers the constant temperatures below the earth's surface into a building, then adjusts it with electrically-driven compressors and heat exchangers. As a result, the school will get heating as well as air- conditioning and can scrap its traditional boiler-driven heating operation, Keen explained.
       A similar system was first tried with the construction in recent years of the district's facilities building at 5240 Geiger Blvd. The system has proven to be not only effective but economical; Washington's would be expected to “pay for itself within five years,” he said.
       The work will require drilling numerous holes on school property, each roughly 400 feet deep, then installing the pipe system throughout the school.
       A determination of the number and depth of the holes needed at Washington will start to be determined in September when a test boring will be made there and later analyzed, Keen said.
       Two representatives of Washington's PTA - President Chanine Courts and Treasurer Marta Lacombe - were disappointed at the meeting to learn there is no chance of expanding the school's size through the project. With more students this year (three classes each for kindergarten and first-grade instead of the normal two), “we have to have more space,” Courts said.
       But the school site is already one of the smallest in the district, with limited parking and a small playground. Also, the initial construction did not have sufficient bearing walls to support the addition of a second floor, Keys and Keen pointed out
       The project will create a small amount of new space in the room next to the main office where the heating system's boiler is now. The geo-exchange system needs no boiler.
       Other scheduled Washington bond-issue work next summer will be replacement west-wing windows and doors, new electrical and new equipment and asphalt for the playground.

Westside Pioneer article