State College Area School District is in the middle of construction on four building projects totaling almost $200 million in budgets. But features in the buildings could save taxpayers in the long run.
SCASD's four building projects — State High and Corl Street, Radio Park and Spring Creek elementary schools — will all be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold.
The first phase of the $140 million State High project wrapped in January, and construction on the elementary school projects is underway. As previously reported, the project totals are expected to be about $17.5 million for Corl Street, $17.6 million for Spring Creek and about $22 million for Radio Park.
"By going LEED Gold, we've upped the ante a little bit and gone above some of the minimum requirements of being LEED certified.," said Ed Poprik, SCASD's director of physical plant.
Among the energy-efficient features in the projects are LED lighting, more efficient heating and cooling systems, more efficient water usage systems, "very robust" building envelopes (meaning the insulation isn't allowing heat or air conditioning to leak through the walls or windows), use of a lot of natural light and solar panels, Poprik said.
The district is expecting that, in its energy bills for natural gas and electricity, the State High project will save about $315,000 a year over a standard, non-LEED project, Poprik said. Additionally, the high school could save between $25,000 and $30,000 a year in the water and sewer bill.
Across the four projects, Poprik said the solar panels will save the district between $20,000 and $30,000 a year.
In March, the state Solar Energy Fund announced funding for the elementary school projects' solar panels.
The district received $93,500 for Spring Creek Elementary School — a new build that will combine Houserville and Lemont elementary schools. Solar panels at the school are expected to produce more than 74,000 kWh annually, or about 28 percent of the building's energy use, according to a press release from state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman's office. The solar panels will save the district almost $5,800 in annual energy costs. The total cost for this project is $187,000.
For Corl Street, the district received $85,250 in grant money to help offset the total cost of $170,500. Annually, the school's solar panels are projected to produce more than 68,000 kWh annually, or about 20 percent of the building's energy use, which will save the district about $5,350 in energy costs, according to Corman's office.
The total project cost for solar panel installation at Radio Park is $211,200, $66,750 of which is covered by the grant. Those solar panels will produce more than 90,178 kWh annually, which is about 20 percent of the building's energy use. According to Corman's office, that will save the district more than $7,000 in energy costs.
"Clean, affordable energy needs to be a significant part of our state's energy future...." Corman, R-Benner Township, said in the release. "These projects will reduce energy costs while having a meaningful impact on our environment. The state dollars put into the Solar Energy Fund ensure that vital projects such as this become a reality."
Poprik said the district projected a 10-year payback for the solar panels, but stressed that it's just a projection.
"One of the tricky parts about doing that is we know what we're paying for electricity today — the solar panels are gonna be there for 20 years. It's a guess, we can make educated guesses, but it really is a guess what are we gonna be paying for electricity in 10 years," he said.
State College is in a "relatively good" environment for electric and gas rates right now, he said, but the long-term trend for utility is a rise so the savings will get better each year progressively.
Poprik said SCASD has been proactive in looking at these building projects as being LEED projects — the financial reason is energy savings, the environmental reason is carbon footprint and then there's the educational environment, which is improved by better indoor air quality and building materials.
"We really have been holistic ... about how we do these projects and making sure that they serve the community, serve the students and serve our faculty and staff well for many years to come," he said.