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Higley Opts for Energy-Conservation Pact Despite Reservations

Higley Unified School District governing board members voted unanimously Thursday to move forward with a proposed energy-conservation program despite two members’ concerns about the bidding process.

The program will upgrade infrastructure on campuses and would require the district to take out a possible $5 million low-interest loan.

The contract is with Climatec, a Phoenix company that has worked with more than 80 Arizona school districts, including Gilbert Public Schools.

Board members Venessa Whitener and Paul Howell questioned why there were no other companies to compare prices to and stressed they weren’t sure if they were getting the most competitive price.

“We walk away not knowing if we’re getting the best deal possible,” Howell said. “Did we compare pricing with other companies? Are we just accepting this? I’m not saying it’s a bad program. I feel we haven’t done our due diligence.”

Administrators assured the board that Climatec is the leader in the industry, and that the company had been vetted by another school district.

“We have a relationship with Climatec and other reputable districts have used them,” Superintendent Denise Birdwell said. “We felt it was vetted, but we can go out to bids if that is your wish.”

Birdwell also apologized for not communicating clearly to the board why Climatec is the best option. She said Higley is full of Climatec systems, and the administration felt comfortable working with them because of how it has worked with them in the past.

“They were the natural choice,” Birdwell said.

A new law allows Higley to take out a low-interest loan of up to $5 million to pay for the upgrades. The cash-strapped district doesn’t have the money to make needed energy system repairs; millions of dollars of voter-approved bond money is not available because of lower assessed home values.

Climatec is offering a 10-year and 15-year program that would produce between $1.2 million and $2.5 million in energy savings. A $5 million loan would carry an annual 3.75 percent rate and carry a minimum annual repayment of about $436,000.

Climatec is promising annual savings of between $395,720 and $468,648, depending which options Higley chooses. The work would include upgrading emergency management and fire systems, and replacing inefficient heating and air-conditioning equipment to reduce energy consumption by 5 percent. Climatec officials proposed 12 energy-saving improvements, including new HVAC controls at six campuses.

A proposed nine-screen “global energy dashboard” in a central district location would monitor the HVAC control systems, security cameras, fire-alarm systems and meter data to improve maintenance and operations.

Climatec also is promising to have a third-party company analyze the district’s energy costs once the program is implemented and to cover the difference between actual and estimated savings.

Board President Kim Anderson and board member Denise Standage both thought the district did its due diligence, and were confident with Climatec and what it has provided the district. Climatec analyzed the district’s needs and provided the board with a book of options for improvements.

“I feel they have great suggestions, and I don’t see how we could have done more research,” Anderson said. “I feel in my perspective it’s been vetted and feel it’s a good bet to move forward. I don’t want to spend extra time and money going out for bids when I feel we’ll come up with the same conclusion.”

Board member Greg Land said Climatec’s proposal goes after the “low-hanging fruit,” small and easy options to save the district money.

“I’m frustrated we didn’t do this two years ago,” Land said. “I don’t want to delay. There could be increased costs if we delay further. I’m comfortable moving forward.”

The board is now expected to have study sessions to discuss contract options.

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