The Stow-Munroe Falls School District hopes to be able to do more than $4 million in energy conservation projects without increasing its budget or cutting costs elsewhere.

The School Board unanimously approved a resolution April 20 authorizing the district's participation in the Ohio School Energy Conservation Financing Program. Work could begin as early as this summer, said an April 20 district press release.

Prior to the vote, Superintendent Tom Bratten said that Plug Smart, a Columbus-based energy services and technology firm, had performed an assessment of district buildings that produced a list of proposed projects.

Will Lytwyn, a Plug Smart energy specialist, told the Board that the program allows the district to borrow the money, either through the state or on its own, and pay it back with the money it saves on energy costs. He said the estimated costs of the projects total about $4.14 million, with annual savings totaling an estimated $355,000.

Lytwyn said Plug Smart has a good history of projects it proposes coming in on or under budget and the savings estimates are "conservative." A recently added requirement of the program, he said, is that if the savings fall short of the estimates, Plug Smart is required to make up the difference either by making additional improvements that bring the savings up to the estimates or reimbursing the district with a direct payment.

"We have a lot of skin in the game," said Lytwyn. "We're not going to want to overestimate these savings."

Bratten said his first experience with the program was in 2006, during a period when he was serving in various administrative positions with the Canton Local Schools. At that time, he said, the program did not include such a protection for school districts.

"I love what the state has done," he said, adding "I would say it's a very good bet that these estimates are worst case."

"It's guaranteed and if it doesn't [meet the estimates], Plug Smart owes us a check," Bratten told the Stow Sentry after the meeting.

Proposed projects include increasing the use of more energy efficient LED lighting for about $1.17 million and upgrading environmental control systems for about $1.18 million in all nine district schools and replacing windows for $1.25 million at Kimpton Middle School, Lakeview Intermediate School and Echo Hills, Riverview and Woodland elementary schools. Lytwyn said other district schools already had more energy efficient windows installed in recent years.

There would also be various other less expensive improvements made, according to the proposal.

Lytwyn said Plug Smart would handle the contractor bidding process and act as project manager.

"You can really be as involved or uninvolved as you want," he told the Board.

Lytwyn said an added benefit of the projects is that they will provide energy conservation and sustainability educational opportunities for students.

Lytwyn told the Stow Sentry after the meeting that the resolution the Board approved needs to be submitted with the proposal for review by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, the state agency that oversees the program. He said the review process typically takes 30 to 45 days.

"[The OFCC] would give the approval to the schools to apply for the funding," he said.

According to the OFCC's website, the program was created under House Bill 264, which the Ohio General Assembly enacted in 1985.

"Since the inception of the program, more than 500 Ohio school districts have taken advantage of this opportunity," states the website.

A list of districts taking part in the program over the last four years includes $900,000 in projects in Nordonia Hills in 2013 and about $1 million in Twinsburg and $2.3 million in Green last year. Plug Smart was not involved in any of those projects, but was involved with projects in 10 other districts around the state going back to early 2012.

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