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The Houston County School board is considering a 10-year, $4 million contract with Alabama Power to update HVAC units and retrofit LED lighting at Rehobeth and Houston County high schools.

If approved, the district would lock into a $33,951 monthly rate for 120 months. That rate includes fully upgrading lighting systems at both high schools with 2,517 LED lights. Over 75% of the HVAC equipment at both schools will be replaced with 115 new commercial grade HVAC assets.

Houston County Schools Maintenance Supervisor Dominick Curran said that many companies have reached out to him over the last couple of years, but the deal with Alabama Power powered by Sparkfund stood out among the rest because of the cost-saving potential.

“My initial view on it was that it was too good to be true, but it’s actually a way for us to replace a lot of bad equipment and we don’t have that initial outlay,” he said.

Rehobeth, built in 2013, and Houston County High, built in 1941, have 153 residential and commercial-grade HVAC units and associated assets like air handlers. Over 75% of the equipment is between 17-28 years old.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers suggests that commercial HVAC equipment has a useful life of 15 years.

“That equipment is failing out at Rehobeth. It’s been out there a long time,” Curran said, adding that if a commercial unit stops working, the system has to shell out up to $150,000 upfront.

Brendan Reed, director of business development with Sparkfund, presented the service to board members at the Houston County school board meeting on Sept. 9. He said the subscription service would lower costs and take away the “pain of ownership.”

“The past few months, Alabama Power partners have audited two high schools in the district,” he said. “What we found is that lighting across the two schools is inconsistent across the two schools; there’s a bunch of different light technology installed and most of the HVAC equipment is well past its useful life. Neither of the schools is utilizing monitoring nor control technologies that will give you visibility into system performance and optimize it for further savings.”

With the subscription, Alabama Power and its partners would maintain and repair all equipment, including the existing equipment, and provide digital monitoring that would help with preventative repairs.

“We run ragged. We’re only six people in this department. This takes a lot off our plate,” Curran said. “We basically do not contract out anything. Most all repairs – air conditioning, lighting, refrigeration, carpentry – we do it all in house in our school system, so it takes a big burden off our department.”

Based on available invoices, a summary of findings showed that the maintenance department spent 222 hours in the last calendar year traveling to and servicing lighting or HVAC equipment around the county – almost six full working weeks.

Getting upgraded equipment and better lighting would also reduce the system’s carbon footprint and save money on energy consumption, Curran said.

“Those savings are passed through to you,” Reed said to the board at Monday night’s board meeting. “This is just a different way to procure the equipment.”

According to a review of what the school board has spent on new equipment and maintenance, Alabama Power estimated that the board would save $406,881 over the next 10 years with the subscription model. That amount does not include energy savings.

There is no upfront investment, and Curran said the system will take ownership of the equipment at the end of the agreement term, if members decide not to renew. Once the subscription is in place, another school can be added to the agreement at any point.

Curran said the item will be on Monday night’s agenda, and he hopes that the board will approve it.

“Sparkfund has worked with other schools across the country. If approved, Houston County will be the first school system in Alabama to take advantage of the program,” said Alabama Power Public Relations Officer Linda Brannon.

“Alabama Power is in the early stages of rolling this out but other customers are aware of these services and are utilizing them.”

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