How green do Oak Park and River Forest High School want to be? And at what price? That’s what the OPRF District 200 School Board will have to decide in the coming weeks.
The school board plans to vote at its September 8 meeting on whether to opt for a geothermal heating and cooling system with a heat pump for its Project 2 capital plan to build a new school wing. four-story athletics and physical education building in the southeast part of the current building. Next summer, the OPRF plans to demolish its current baseball and softball fields to build a new 400-meter track. If the council chooses the geothermal option, now would be the time to drill into the ground and install 133,000 feet of linear pipe underground, because that’s when the fields would have to be destroyed to build the new way.
District architects estimate that geothermal energy could supply all of Project 2’s space cooling needs and 64% of its heating needs. The 36% of heating needs not covered by geothermal energy would be met by purchasing green electricity. Geothermal energy transfers the relatively constant temperature of the earth’s core to heat and cool a building and is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to heat and cool a building. However, it would also be, at least at OPRF, the most expensive option in the short term.
According to District Architects’ projections, geothermal would cost about $4.2 million, while conventional natural gas boilers would cost $2.65 million and all electric boilers would cost $2.45 million. The cost of installing a geothermal system in this phase of the capital project could range from $4.1 million to $4.6 million according to a report prepared for council.
The architects told the school board at its Aug. 25 meeting that natural gas would have the lowest operating costs. They estimated that the annual operating costs for a natural gas system would be about $227,000 compared to about $309,000 for geothermal and about $399,000 for electric boilers.
However, a representative from the Oak Park Climate Action Network told the board in the public comment portion of the meeting that the OPCAN believes the architect’s estimates of the cost of geothermal energy are too high.
“We believe the upfront costs and operating costs of geothermal may be inflated in the initial figures you have, so we would encourage the council to get a second opinion to check the accuracy given that this is of such an important decision,” said Mona Blaber. of the OPCAN.
Architect Alyson Sternquist said she hoped the geothermal cost estimate was too high, but a geothermal contractor had visited the OPRF and was concerned about possible issues and complexities that would drive up costs.
“Hopefully they’re too high,” Sternquist said of the geothermal estimates.
Blaber said the OPCAN estimates geothermal operating costs would be similar to the operating costs of natural gas boilers.
Geothermal energy emits no greenhouse gases. Electric heating and air conditioning also emit no greenhouse gases on site. The architects estimated that the natural gas boilers would emit about 890,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.
“We can’t afford to stay tied down and dependent on fossil fuels,” Blaber said.
Whichever option the council chooses, it is also considering installing solar panels on the roof of the new section to generate solar electricity. Purchasing off-site solar-generated electricity is another option.
“We need to flesh out the build-vs-buy option on solar,” said District 200 School Board Chairman Tom Cofsky.
Board member Mary Anne Mohanraj was enthusiastic about the geothermal option.
Council members wanted to know more about possible incentives in the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act to promote green technologies such as geothermal energy.
“We have to figure out what they are,” Cofsky said. “There are a lot of hands grabbing that money.”
Just over $2.8 million in geothermal incentives and grants have already been factored into the architect’s cost estimates.
The renovation of Project 2 will take place in the summer of 2024 at the earliest.
With the new track taking up the space where the baseball and softball fields now are, those fields would be moved south of Lake Steet. A baseball field, which could also serve as a multipurpose field, would be built on the south field now used by the field hockey team. A new softball field would be constructed in conjunction with the Park District of Oak Park at Ridgeland Common.
The OPRF does not currently have a regulation 400-meter track, and a long-term lease with Concordia University that allowed OPRF track crews to use the track at Concordia is expiring.
The new track and field facilities along with other field works are expected to cost $15.7 million. At the August 25 meeting, the school board voted unanimously to put the athletics project up for auction. The administration will not recommend to the board to proceed with the project until it receives bids for the project.