Flint, MI— Summer 2022 will be the first in 70 years that Flint Community Schools’ buildings have central air conditioning as well as a slew of other energy-saving upgrades—and the district is being recognized for these efforts.

The Michigan Energy Services Coalition Chapter alongside the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy has awarded Flint Schools a certificate of recognition for energy efficiency.

 The district is among 3 other entities that received this year’s awards: The City of Marquette, Oakridge Public Schools, and Shelby Public Schools.

Daniel Mack, energy solutions account executive for HVAC company Johnson Controls presented the award during a board meeting Jan. 19.  

The $12.96 million project, led by Johnson Controls, has been ongoing for nearly two years. It includes 16 new boiler units, new HVAC systems, automation controls to automatically adjust room temperatures, and other envelope building repairs.

The district will save approximately $17.5 million over the next 20 years due to the upgrades, John Ingraham, account executive for Johnson Controls, said. The increased efficiency will also eliminate 2,148 tons of CO2 emissions and 883 tons of carbon, he said.

The award also recognizes the way the district made the improvements by entering into what’s called a performance contract agreement with Johnson Controls, Mack said, adding that it’s like having an “accountability partner” to ensure energy savings.

Ingraham explained performance contracts are paid back via the savings in yearly payments.

“The way that works is essentially the full $12.96 million is borrowed, and then they pay it back against that with the savings over 20 years. It’s not a debt, it’s a series of one-year renewable obligations to pay a specific amount until that dollar amount is paid off,” Ingraham said, adding that Johnson Controls would be responsible if the energy savings are less than projected.

The goal of performance contracts is not only to save energy, but to enhance the functionality of a building. In Flint Schools’ case, this means a better learning environment.

“The idea is to get the facilities all more comfortable and also more efficient…. There’s a community engagement and education support component, too,” Ingraham said.

Getting to this point has been a long road for Flint Schools. In September 2020, board members had to make the tough decision to install central air or take Northwestern out of service, which closed to students in July due to its state of disrepair.

The board voted that air conditioning was top priority but in doing so they would be swallowing a $200,000 bill annually to keep the central kitchen in Northwestern running.

Due to COVID and manufacturing delays, the project was still incomplete when school started in fall 2021. Without air, the unbearable heat forced district officials to cancel three days of classes.

On Aug. 30, 2021, Doyle-Ryder Elementary shut down after mold was discovered in some of its classrooms likely due to heat and lack of ventilation. The district continues to work on repairs.

“It feels good to know that our scholars don’t have to sit in the heat. So it’s my job to make sure I’m on Johnson Controls to ensure that what (they said) is actually going to happen. So as soon as the weather breaks, we’re going to be ‘alright guys, get in the buildings,’” Superintendent Kevelin Jones said.

Flint Schools was among 3 other entities that received the energy savings award: The City of Marquette, Oakridge Public Schools, and Shelby Public Schools.

Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...

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