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Case Studies: Dubuque Schools

Reprinted with permission from the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald:

June 22, 2004

Schools see benefits of geothermal energy

Audubon, Table Mound and Hempstead have installed systems


Students at a few of Dubuque's schools will relax in the comforts of advanced energy technology this fall.

Education officials hope modern geothermal energy systems will stave off the sweltering summer heat, which caused headaches and early dismissals last fall.

"We fully experienced a difference immediately," said Principal Roy Hansen, of Table Mound Elementary, which has enjoyed geothermal energy since mid-August 2003. "At the end of the day, teachers and students were relatively fresh. In past years, everyone would be drained from the heat."

Table Mound, Audubon Elementary School and Hempstead High School have installed the systems, and it is expected to take two, five and seven years, respectively, for the schools to effectively pay for the installation costs with energy savings.

Kevin Eipperle, managing principal at Durrant Group, the company that designed the systems, said the geothermal energy uses the temperature of the earth (55 degrees Fahrenheit) to provide a base line which moves the inside environment closer to heating or cooling temperatures.

A furnace uses outside air - usually ranging from 30 to minus-10 degrees in the winter - and heats cold air to near room temperature. Geothermal systems only have to raise the temperature from 55 degrees.

"It is pretty darn efficient," Eipperle said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources governs geothermal energy systems. For every public building, the state requires a life-cycle cost analysis be submitted to the DNR and the state. Agencies must compare at least three different systems and pursue the most cost-effective system - usually geothermal.

The systems, which cost about $10 to $20 per square foot, dramatically reduce the cost of climate control, Eipperle said.

The schools also gain the added benefit of a single system that provides air conditioning and heating.

The Dubuque Community School District's new middle school also will have a geothermal system. Construction on a well field for the system begins this summer, said Ron Holm, finance and business services executive director for the district.

Eipperle said geothermal systems require a vast amount of space, which makes the technology more attractive for construction projects, rather than renovations on areas with little spare space.

Dubuque school officials said the systems provide relief year round, not just during early fall heat waves.

"Realistically, we have summer school programs going on throughout the district," said Dubuque Community Schools Superintendent John Burgart. "The more air-conditioned space we have, the more likely it is we can provide those programs without killing the kids and the teachers off."

©Copyright 2004 Telegraph Herald