Clark explores schools, savings

/ 19 April 2012 / jennifer

Lesley Toth, Mille Lacs County Times, April 19, 2012 –

Eighth District U.S. Representative hopeful Tarryl Clark visited with Milaca Superintendent Jerry Hansen to discuss ways in which the federal government can better address education.

Eighth District U.S. Representative hopeful Tarryl Clark toured Milaca Public Schools last Tuesday, April 10, after visiting several Duluth schools and learning more about energy efficiency efforts in public education.

“You’d be surprised at how many boilers I’ve seen,” Clark said when offered to take a look Milaca’s. “One of the things I want to do is make it easier to do some of these smarter things.”

Clark heard about Milaca Public School’s ventilation and energy improvements after speaking with Johnson Controls, who was also responsible for improvements made in the Duluth area, where Clark has been working for the past year.

Superintendent Jerry Hansen gave Clark a history of energy efficiency work done in the Milaca building, a project that began about six years ago. It started to address air quality and mold issues found in the school, but ended up having cost-savings side affects.

He explained that purchasing the school’s $1 million ventilation system itself rather than having the contractor buy it saved thousands of dollars in sales taxes as the school is tax-exempt. The school’s double boiler system also allows it to only operate the smaller of which during mild winters like the one just wrapping up.

“We have to figure out some creative ways to keep our buildings in good shape,” Clark said. “And if we can do that while saving taxpayer dollars, that would be great.”

Installing a new roof at the same time as the new air exchange system also saved money in the long-term.

“Every time you remodel, you find things that you don’t want to find,” Hansen said.

Large gaping holes between the ceiling tiles and the roof were discovered during construction — bringing to light significant energy losses. It was also decided to install sprinkler systems in the entire building during this construction phase. By the end of the project, staff has reported they can breath easier, students are more alert, the district spends less to heat the buildings, and safety concerns were alleviated — and all was done on-budget.

“And any time you do remodel work, with all the surprises you find, that’s really rare,” Hansen said. “The other plus side is we’re saving fuel, so we’re saving money.”

Hansen said projects like the one undertaken by Milaca Public Schools are being put off as education budgets feel the squeeze. It wouldn’t have been possible without the substantial loans and grants the school received to pay for the construction. Passing a levy to fund the improvements would have been a long-shot.

“Let’s face it, except for perhaps a few suburban districts, it’s not easy to pass those levies,” Clark said. “The whole levy system needs to be changed.”