ERIE – Neosho County Commissioners voted Thursday evening to assist the Erie school district with improperly-installed air conditioning at the high school.

Erie’s USD 101 Superintendent Troy Damman requested assistance from the funds Apex Clean Energy, developer of the Neosho Ridge Wind electric generation project, is paying in lieu of property taxes (PILOT funds). Commissioners voted to provide $200,000 to correct improper installation of Erie High School’s ground-source heat pump.

The funds will also assist with curriculum and textbook updates and safety at the Galesburg Middle School, which is part of USD 101.

Damman said when the high school was constructed ten years ago, officials used a proprietary heating and air conditioning system, intended to be energy efficient. Because it is proprietary, the system can only be serviced by the original vendor.

Because it was not installed properly, the system runs continually and utility bills for EHS average $16,000 a month, compared to $2,000 for the elementary school. Correcting the errors will cut the bills by half, Damman said.

“That just floors me,” Commissioner Paul Westhoff said. Westhoff served on the Erie school board during the school construction and said he was upset that administrators, before Damman, let the problem go on.

“They dropped the ball there, big time,” he said. 

“Nobody knew any different,” Damman said. “It was that way from day one.”

Correcting the issue, including installing a new controller, will cost $161,635. Damman said the controller will pay for itself in a year in saved costs.

The funds include $19,136 to install more secure doors at the Galesburg school, and goes along with a $9,000 Safe and Secure grant the district   received   for  other improvements. Commissioner David Orr said he had no issues with funding the Galesburg school.

“That was a no-brainer,” he said.

Damman did not specify the vendor involved with the original installation. 

Commissioners Thursday also discussed updates to the courthouse HVAC system.

“Who was the company that we need to stay away from?” Orr asked.

The funds to the Erie school district will come from the general fund portion of Apex’s PILOT funding.

The commission also heard from St. Paul Fire Chief Wyatt Westhoff, who requested funds for an updated communications system. The commission tabled the request for two weeks.

St. Paul hopes to update its communications system to an enhanced digital system from the current VHF analog radio. The project, including an 80-foot tower at the fire station, will cost $30,396.

Commissioners heard from consulting engineer Alan Lankford on the courthouse HVAC system.

Overall, the building heating system was top-of-the-line when it was installed in 1962, Lankford said, and it has been well maintained up until recently. But the system has aged. Lankford gave two options, one costing $3 million over 20 years, including utility expense, and one costing $2.6 million that would be an enhanced version of the current technology. The replacement cost is $1.5 million for the enhanced system.

Lankford also suggested replacing lighting with more energy-efficient versions for $50,000, which would pay for itself in three to five years. Commissioners directed maintenance man Herb Ford to get data and drawings for the system.

Ford also received approval to spend $13,707 for a 550-gallon above-ground diesel fuel tank for the courthouse emergency generator. The permit on the current underground tank expires July 1.

In other business, commissioners met in executive session for a half hour to discuss their contract with Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center as provider for the emergency ambulance service, but took no action.

They also discussed a planned meeting between county and Chanute 911 officials. Commissioner Gail Klaassen said the city requested that Interim City Manager Todd Newman be present, and Orr and Westhoff said they were agreeable to that.

County Clerk Heather Elsworth reported that her office received a grant of more than $10,000 for protective gear for election officials against the coronavirus.

Commissioners voted to proceed with a grant application for Community Development Block Grant funding to businesses impacted by the coronavi   Carey Spoon with the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission said the state will take about 15 days to review the applications. The commission received no comments at a public hearing on the application, and approved agreements required for the application.

The commission voted to deny an invoice from a property owner who mowed a ditch on his own property. They also received an email from rural resident Melissa Warner about how the county handles violations of the Road Use Agreement (RUA) with Apex.

Counselor Seth Jones said he sends notice to Apex but has received one complaint. He also said sheriff’s officers took a report when a resident blocked the construction haul route. Jones said violations are a civil matter because they involve a contract instead a law.

Orr and Road and Bridge Director Mike Brown said they needed proof when someone makes a complaint, such as a photograph that identifies the location and a license tag number. Orr said RUA violations are like an apartment damage deposit, but he said Apex uses subcontractors who sometimes go rogue.


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