Friday, July 15, 2011

Contractors get boost from schools projects

Most geothermal resource work going to local companies

Express Staff Writer

Johnny Johnson, a Burks Excavation employee, does excavation work at Hailey Elementary School this week. Johnson is one of about 300 locals who have been employed on extensive geothermal resource development and building retrofit projects in the Blaine County School District. Photo by David N. Seelig

Nearly three-quarters of the money thus far expended on geothermal resource work for the Blaine County School District has gone to local contractors and suppliers, a Seattle-based engineering company with $17 million in contracts with the district reported Tuesday.

Jason Hynes, McKinstry construction manager for the school district work, told the board of trustees Tuesday night that the company has spent about $10 million of the $17 million allocation.

"I'd guess that $7 million to $8 million of that is to local contractors," Hynes said. "We've done a lot of work to keep people working in the valley."

McKinstry is providing engineering and construction management services for extensive geothermal resource development and building retrofits at school district buildings. Funding for the McKinstry contracts is through a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009 and a $5 million geothermal grant awarded to the school district from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Work started in 2010 at Bellevue Elementary School and Carey School.

Hynes told the school board that the Bellevue project is now finished except for some "tweaks" still being done on the system. He said work will be completed at the Carey School buildings, including the high school, elementary school and gymnasium, before school starts this fall.

Work is also under way this summer at Hailey Elementary School and at Wood River High School. The last project will be at the Community Campus and the adjacent Silver Creek High School.

Once all the projects are completed, McKinstry will start a three-year monitoring and evaluation project at all the facilities to determine actual energy efficiency and savings.

The projects involve drilling geothermal resource and discharge wells to provide heating, ventilation and cooling to the buildings through the use of heat pumps. Building retrofits are rather extensive, involving removal of old heating, cooling and ventilating systems and installation of new pipes, heat pumps and mechanical rooms.

McKinstry also is contracted to provide new fire suppression systems to some of the facilities.

Hynes reported that some 300 local construction specialists, including well drillers, plumbers, pipe fitters electricians and heating, cooling and ventilating experts, have been involved in the projects.

He said an advantage to hiring locally for McKinstry has been that many of the specialists have experience in geothermal heat pump technology, having installed the systems on a smaller scale at numerous upscale homes in the Wood River Valley.

"The subs have been the best and I can't think of a sub we wouldn't want back," Hynes said.

The school board seemed pleased that McKinstry has been able to hire a large number of local contractors, rather than just a few.

Trustee Paul Bates, sometimes critical of school district construction projects, complimented the company for his efforts in spending funds locally.

Terry Smith:

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