The new North Side elementary school will be the La Crosse School District’s first to use an increasingly popular heating and cooling system that cuts energy costs and emissions.
District officials agreed Monday to include plans for a geothermal system in designs for the new school, instead of a traditional boiler. Put simply, geothermal systems use underground temperatures to control temperatures in the school.
Installation will cost about $1.7 million — about $300,000 more than a boiler. Meanwhile, yearly heating and cooling costs for the new school at 1611 Kane St. will be about $24,000 cheaper.
“While there is some money to be put up front, the pay off that is yielded over time will save our taxpayers a significant amount of money going forward,” said Steve Salerno, associate superintendent for the district.
The district might also qualify for about $100,000 in savings from a state incentive program for green building design, said Manus McDevitt, principal for Sustainable Engineering Group.
McDevitt’s company designed the geothermal system approved for the new Northside Elementary School at 1611 Kane St.
Geothermal heating, which draws up underground temperatures to the surface, is not a new technology. Romans used a similar process to heat ancient baths in England.
“They took advantages of the different temperature,” McDevitt said.
Centuries later, more than 50 holes, each dug about 400 feet down, will allow Northside to take advantage of the different temperatures deep under the school. Designs for the new school put the holes under the parking lot on the north end of the building site.
Regardless of the weather, temperatures hover near 52 degrees in the ground under Northside. A solution of water and biodegradable antifreeze is pumped through pipes, down into the bores and back up into the school. Steady underground temperatures are transferred into heat exchangers and blown into classrooms.
The system is easy to maintain, and complications are rare, said Matthew Wolfert, principal architect with Bray Architects, the firm designing the school.
If an underground well does fail, “you don’t attempt to repair it, you simply replace it,” Wolfert said.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems are already big in states such as Iowa, with heftier incentive funding for environmentally friendly buildings, McDevitt said.
The trend has picked in Wisconsin in the past decade or so, especially as schools look for a cheaper way to heat and cool buildings.
Sustainable Engineering has made geothermal systems for 16 schools in the state, and another fourcurrently in the design phase.
Geothermal will cut Northside’s carbon emissions by about 20 percent — about 226,000 pounds a year, according to a report from Sustainable Engineering. That’s the same as planting 2,600 trees or cutting emissions from nine homes.
It’s also cost effective. Energy savings from the geothermal system would pay back the additional installation costs in about eight years if the project qualifies for incentive funding. If not, it would take 12 years, still a fraction of a school’s life span, which can range from 40 to 50 years, McDevitt said.
“If you take the long-term view,” McDevitt said, “geothermal makes a lot of sense.”