The members of the Stokes County Board of Education delivered strong words to Johnson Controls representatives on Monday night, voicing concerns that the company was not living up to its promises in executing a $4 million guaranteed energy savings contract.
The Monday night school board meeting was held at Poplar Springs Elementary School in King, and four representatives from Johnson Controls were on hand for the discussion, which was one of the last items on the agenda. Discussion lasted more than an hour.
In 2010 the school system entered into a contract of around $4 million with Johnson Controls to improve some equipment and systems in the county’s schools in order to generate energy savings and promote efficiency. This involved upgrading light fixtures and some Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning systems, setting standard temperature set-points, and more. Money saved through the improved energy efficiency measures is supposed to offset the cost of the project.
But staff members from schools across the county have been reporting various problems since Johnson Controls began working on the efficiency upgrades in 2010. On Monday night Stokes County Schools administrators came prepared with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the various problems reported at each school.
A frequently recurring report was that humidity and condensation have become a big issue in many schools. Another frequent report was of temperature inconsistency, with certain areas of schools taking hours to cool off while other parts were so cold students and teachers wore jackets every day.
A concern of school maintenance and operations managers was that the run times of the HVAC systems — typically around 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. — was not sufficient to cool all of the schools in time for classes. But deviating from the schedule agreed upon with Johnson Controls could result in the county seeing less energy savings.
Johnson Controls staff members asked for specifics about some of the complaints, saying they had not been aware of some of the problems until that meeting. Others were brought up at a meeting between Johnson Controls and school staff members a few weeks ago.
After hearing the concerns, Tom Erwin with Johnson Controls tried to reassure the board that it was important to the company to address those concerns.
“Have we been perfect? No. Do we strive to be better? Yes,” stated Erwin.
Jeff Morgan, also with Johnson Controls, delved into some of the specific complaints. He noted that most of the schools do not have humidity controls on their equipment, which presents a challenge. Some of the perceptions or problems are a result of lack of understanding or training, he said, but training sessions are being set up for the schools.
Board member Sonya Cox said she did not know where to start with her comments. She pointed out that an initial project option a few years ago was $7 million, but the school system could not afford to pay that and opted to go with $4 million. But she said the school system was still promised that the project would lead to energy savings and a better learning environment for the students.
“In most cases that hasn’t happened yet,” said Cox.
She asked the Johnson Controls reps that if it was their job to do these systems on a daily basis, why would they not know beforehand if the new controls were going to be effective on old equipment.
Erwin replied to her, as he repeated many times during the night: “We’re not done yet.” He tried to assure the board members that the project was ongoing and more adjustments would be made before the completion.
Cox said many of the same problems mentioned Monday were brought up in August of 2011, yet they are still occurring in 2012.
Board member Mike Rogers said so far on a $4 million project only two schools seemed to be faring well. Using “country boy math,” as he called it, Rogers said the school district could not afford to pay $2 million per school. Erwin repeated that the project was not done yet.
Board member David Smith asked why Johnson Controls employees were not out at the schools every day trying to fix the problems. He said, “I think it’s time y’all got off your seat and started doing something.”
The Johnson Controls personnel pointed out that assessments prior to the start of the project represented a snapshot in time, so they could not possibly know or anticipate all aspects of the project and how equipment would react. Rogers said they must have done a snapshot on the three buildings that had humidity control.
The construction and installation phase of the project has already run several months over its timeline, but Johnson Controls workers said they are committed to seeing the project through to the end. Board chairman Jamie Yontz wanted to hear how the company proposed to address the issues, saying, “Communication’s been a problem.”
Board member Becky Boles told them, “No excuses. Just do it right … The board still believes in you and what you can do, but no more games.”
Colon Moore, a former board member who was on the board when the Johnson Controls contract was approved, attended the meeting and spoke up at the request of Cox. Moore said that at no time during consideration of the project was it indicated that the schools’ equipment would be an issue. Otherwise he said the board would not have agreed to the project. But he did later express confidence in Erwin’s desire to make sure the board was pleased with the project.
A Johnson Controls leader said it was going to take understanding and cooperation between both parties to resolve the concerns. Johnson Controls staff agreed to re-evaluate the set points to see if they should be adjusted down in some schools and to look into the other concerns.
Johnson Controls officials asked if they could attend the next regular board meeting to give a progress report. The school board agreed.
After the meeting, Cox said, “I feel like they’re ready to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done.”