Butler County Times Gazette
  • County approves an energy audit of the Butler County Jail

  • The Butler County Detention Center in recent months has become a major concern for the Butler County Commissioners
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  • With the recent increases in utility costs, many citizens in the county are looking for ways to cut costs and usage. The Butler County Detention Center in recent months has become a major concern for the Butler County Commissioners because of those same rising utility costs.
    Director of Facilities Management Dan Ingalls has taken the task of coordinating with Schneider Electric to help curb some of those costs and brought the discussion to the commissioners Tuesday morning.
    “Over the past year, the Detention Center has paid an average of $19,246 per month for electricity,” explained Ingalls. “Annually, the Detention Center is paying an average of approximately $231,000 a year for electricity alone. There are several pieces of equipment that are in need of upgrading. We’re asking for permission to do an audit with Schneider Electric for the amount of $11,500. They will look and see where some savings could possibly be. If we do decide to do a project with Schneider, that $11,500 will roll right into the overall cost of the project.”
    Schneider Electric is no stranger to completing projects in Butler County.
    “This company has just completed a large project with SBA and they’re currently working with Butler Community College as well,” said Ingalls.
    “Schneider Electric is is a $31 billion international company,” began Schneider Representative Paige Spark. “The main office of Schneider Electric is in Lenexa, Kan. Nationwide, the company has completed 520 projects similar to the project at the detention center. One hundred of those projects has been in the Midwest with five of those projects in Butler County. We work hard to develop the relationships with our customers. We have currently completed projects with Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, Butler Community College, and Andover, Rose Hill and Circle public schools and those projects have cost upwards of $13 million in the county.”
    She went on to explain the purpose of the audit is to give a comprehensive plan in order to strategically begin various projects to help the detention center to cut the utilities usage and costs. The company has been instructed to find a budget-neutral project. This will ensure the county will not see a sharp rise in the budget in order to complete the projects.
    Representative Drew Sebelius of Schneider Electric laid out the needs of the detention facility.
    “There are limitations that are inherent to a detention center,” began Sebelius. “We classify it as a mission critical facility. Basically what that phrase means is there will be no allowable down time in order to complete the various projects. We will have to figure how to make major improvements while keeping the facility functioning. As a company, we will work very closely with engineers, construction workers, detention officers and other individuals in order to ensure the highest possible safety in the areas currently being worked on. This will involve specialized training, coordinating of areas and supervision of prisoners, a process of checking materials in and out of the facility, and other unique forms of communication.”
    Page 2 of 4 - He went on to explain currently, natural gas is not available at the detention facility, but it is readily available for installation. The clothes dryers, which are nearing 12 years of age, are due for replacement as this project begins. By replacing the current electric clothes dryers with more efficient natural gas dryers, it will enable the facility to cut the cost of operating the dryers by one third. He also explained upon walk through of the facility, several key items were flagged for review for the project. That included: clothes dryers, electric domestic hot water for the kitchen, administration, laundry and kitchen appliances.
    “Of course, with those current upgrades, the facility would not experience a payback for several years, but in order to show direct energy cost savings, we typically try to balance those long-term savings with a more immediate savings,” Sebelius explained. “The controls throughout the facility are currently in need of replacement. The replacement of those would hold a very short-term return. Lighting upgrades that offer a more efficient technology would also hold a short return.”
    When the group was touring the detention facility in order to do their initial inspection, they found many of the inmates have taken it upon themselves to adjust the temperatures in their cells by blocking air diffusers.
    “The problem with the current HVAC systems is there is very little control,” explained Sebelius. “There are some HVAC controls and equipment that needs to be replaced, but at this point the replacement of that equipment would be proactive.”
    “When we were walking through the facility we found that some of the inmates, when they are uncomfortable with the temperature in their cell, they will wet toilet paper and place it in the holes of the air diffusers,” explained Spark. “When the toilet paper dries, it expands and plugs the holes in the diffuser. This in itself wreaks havoc on the current system. By replacing the controls in these units, the employees at the detention center will be able to create better air flow and controllability in the units.”
    Not all of the commissioners were satisfied with the current findings of the group.
    “After hearing some of the ideas for the projects, I’m not really seeing something new and dramatic,” said Commissioner Ed Myers. “The overall scope of your organization is a fairly large one. I’m personally wondering whether there could possible be a more mid-sized project for us. I want to figure out if we are being properly matched here.”
    “The project we’re looking at here is between $500,000 and $1 million,” said Spark. “The benefits of using performance contracting is that we have the means to make these improvements and we’re going to help pay for that rather than someone individually trying to find other funding sources. The idea behind these projects is to replace these items before they become emergencies. It may not seem earth-shattering, but it does have a positive impact on the facility. The college looked at their similar project as a way of financing equipment and construction over a period of time. The bottom line is: energy prices are going up and there’s nothing we can do about it. The best we can do is attempt to cut down the usage so the cost of utilities for the facility will go down.”
    Page 3 of 4 - With the past projects in Butler County, the impact locally has been mostly positive.
    “In the past with large projects, we have found that with a $1 million project, almost 10 full time jobs were created and the project created a $2.7 million positive impact on the local economy,” said Spark. “We keep as much work local as we can. In Butler County, the past projects completed have totaled nearly $15 million and had a $40 million positive impact on the county.”
    The projects that will soon be proposed to the county, will not only save the county money in utilities in the long run, but the results are also guaranteed by Schneider Electric.
    “The good thing about this project is if they can’t show us they can save us money, they will walk away and it won’t cost the county a dime,” said County Administrator Will Johnson.
    “That’s true,” agreed Spark. “If after the audit we are unable to bring you a self-funding project, we will walk away and the county will never receive the $11,500 invoice for the audit.”
    “We know there is equipment now that needs to be replaced,” added Ingalls. “You’re going to have to pay for it no matter what. Here is a funding mechanism that will be budget neutral.”
    The commission began to question whether working with Schneider Electric would be the best move for the county.
    “When the audit is completed, will the county own the information uncovered?” asked Myers.
    “If the county pays the $11,500 for the audit, the county will own the information, but in order to complete anything with a project, the commission would have to hire an architect and engineer. Typically the design work on a $1 million project will cost $100,000.
    “At the federal level, they’re big on green energy,” said Commissioner Peggy Palmer. “There are available grants for exactly what you’re proposing.”
    “Part of the audit will be dedicated to exploring those opportunities,” explained Spark. “We’ll be looking for as many ways to get as much money as possible for the project.”
    “Any unit of energy we’re not using will be money saved,” agreed Palmer.
    “Schneider Electric has a good reputation throughout the county,” said Johnson. “That is why Dan has brought them before the commission today.”
    “Based on the utility numbers, I’m interested in moving forward with this audit,” commented Commissioner Jeff Masterson.
    Page 4 of 4 - Masterson moved to approve the allowance of Schneider Electric to perform an Investment Grade Audit at the Butler County Detention Facility for $11,500 and the motion was carried 4-1 with Palmer opposing.
    Kari Adams can be reached at kadams@butlercountytimesgazette.com.
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