About those swimming pools – Pt. 1

Part of the justification for building the Red Plan was that the District would save a great deal on energy costs. JCI estimated it would amount to about 2.5 million dollars annually. (Correction – in a recent post I wrote the total savings for the plan would be six million annually. I should have written $5 million)

I don’t know where these “energy savings” were supposed to come from. Long before JCI entered the picture and when I was on the School Board there was a lot of talk about our schools having to maintain far too much building space for the shrinking number of students we were education. It was suggested that we had something like 25% more space than was required. It was space that had to be heated in the winter so I suppose this was the original source of the JCI energy savings. You have to wonder however, how trimming the square footage of our District’s buildings would yield $2.5 million in annual savings. Transportation was never even figured into the energy needs and the fact that fewer buildings would require longer busing commutes by more children should have been analyzed. That may be why oil and gas costs weren’t considered. It would have interfered with the sales pitch.

Ironically, the current Red Plan buildings may take up nearly as much space as the buildings they replaced. That was Art Johnston’s contention. If so they house an even smaller student population than before the Red Plan. Of course, the current school board has made no inquiries that I know of concerning these costs or, if they have, the Duluth News Tribune has failed to highlight such discussions.

That leads me to the timely story of the Timberjay which was sent me this morning by a couple different friends. As I’ve pointed out before the Timberjay has done what our exalted DNT has failed to do – dug deeply into JCI’s energy promises to the St. Louis County School Board. After a prolonged legal fight, ignoring threats by JCI to sue the hell out of the Timberjay, the State Supreme Court acknowledged what I’ve contended for five years – that JCI’s work with a government entity makes its paperwork public.

Soon, thanks to a real journalist, the rural residents of St. Louis County may get a peek at a fraudulent sales pitch on energy savings by JCI which induced that community to vote (narrowly) for a $70 million dollar building spree.

The pathetic voters of Duluth’s school district by comparison will continue to live in ignorance because my court challenge was squashed by JCI and we don’t have much in the way of investigative journalism in Duluth. Perhaps owing to Let Duluth Vote’s fight the City of Duluth exposed another fraudulent energy savings scam by JCI and collected a cool million bucks on the old steam plant.

Maybe if we could get a school board to uncover the original JCI energy calculations our school district could get a crack at some compensation too.

Anyway, here’s the story from St. Louis County thanks to the work of a real news paper:

Timberjay makes new information request to JCI

REGIONAL – The Timberjay has filed a new public information request to Johnson Controls, Inc., seeking documentation in support of the company’s projections of energy savings for the South Ridge and North Woods schools.
The company had indicated in documents provided to the Minnesota Department of Education that it’s proposed restructuring plan for the St. Louis County School District would slice $380,000 annually from the district’s utility costs. But a Timberjay analysis of utility bills for the first year of operation of the new South Ridge School found that the bills exceeded those from the AlBrook and Cotton schools combined, by nearly 50 percent. The AlBrook and Cotton schools were closed as part of the restructuring and students were consolidated into the new South Ridge School.
“It’s pretty clear that the district isn’t going to see the utility savings that JCI promised,” said Marshall Helmberger, who submitted the latest information request for the Timberjay. “Given that the new North Woods School is an identical design, we expect it will be at least as costly to operate as South Ridge has proven to be.” Helmberger said he’s been assured by professional engineers that JCI would have developed detailed energy calculations in order to make projections of utility savings. “We want to see the original calculations that JCI or its subcontractors used in making these claims,” said Helmberger. “We had hoped the school board would request this information when the high operating costs became known, but this board seems unwilling to seek any accountability for the problems associated with this project,” said Helmberger.
The information request was initially made to the St. Louis County School District, but school officials indicated that the district does not have the information and that the newspaper would need to request it from JCI.
While JCI, as a private company, is normally not subject to the state’s public information laws, when it contracts with public agencies, such as the school district, to perform a governmental function, information related to its contract is public. That legal principle was upheld earlier this month in a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled that JCI must provide the Timberjay with a copy of an architectural subcontract that JCI had entered into as part of the school district project. JCI has been refusing to comply with that request since March of 2011. The company has until Nov. 8 to file an appeal in the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
As for the paper’s latest information request, JCI attorney David Lillehaug said he is reviewing the request with company officials and should have a response soon.

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