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Trane Energy Upgrades For Macon Schools on Target to Save Taxpayers More Than $2 Million

By Misty Green

Desiring to upgrade the existing school buildings throughout the Macon County School System has been a far-fetched dream of every director of schools who has held this important seat, yet a lack of additional funding to accomplish those goals was always the harsh reality, until now. 

Realizing that the costly upgrading of the existing buildings will create an equitable, optimized teaching/learning environment, Macon County Director of Schools Shawn Carter set out in search of a solution and discovered an answer in Trane Technologies Inc.’s energy savings program, which will not only be able to enhance comfort and indoor air quality and lighting, while decreasing energy use and operational costs, but also generate savings that will fund those needed upgrades, and it all comes with an added bonus, it is all completely state-funded.

The Macon County School School System is now on target to save about $2 million in energy costs in a 15-year term with the Trane Inc. energy conservation and infrastructure improvement program, put forth to Macon County lawmakers on January 2, 2024, during the Committee of the Whole work session.

“I would like to introduce a gentleman, who would like to speak about initiatives that the school system would like to implement and we need your help to do that,” Macon County Director of Schools Shawn Carter stated, “and it’s not going to cost you a thing.”

“This is Mr. Randy Mauldin and he works for Trane Technologies Incorporated,” Carter explained, “In addition to all of the HVAC Services that they do, Trane also does schools, hospitals, government buildings, and municipalities in both county, state, and city, working with energy audits on the buildings and identify areas that you can save money on… They go in and make the changes, and guarantee the money saved stays with you, in writing, and is paid for through the state… The savings are generated by the changes and (the savings) are what pays for the improvements that are made.”

“The changes that he has identified will give us the biggest bang for our buck, and is something feasible, considering the age of some of our buildings, which include the controls, making everything master controlled, lighting in the buildings, and some structural components,” Director Carter added. 

“I have left out windows because I am using some escrow government money that I have to spend, and I can use that to replace windows, and you have four schools that have been identified for the windows to be replaced. We’ve got the specs from their (Trane) engineer, of what windows have been put in and they go along with their energy plan, and those are the windows that have been bid out.”

Walking to the podium to address the commissioners, Mr. Randy Mauldin exclaimed, “This is nothing that requires a vote tonight. I have been asked by the school board, who has approved us to move forward, to make a presentation to you, so you know this is coming.”

“You, being the funding body of the schools, anything that goes beyond one year in TN Code Annotated in Tennessee State law, has to be approved by the funding body, which is the County Commission,” he continued, “This is a program that is spreading across the state, moving very fast, and doing a lot of benefits for our schools. The way this program works is this… Right now on your school buildings, which is your largest real estate in the county. We calculate years and we take those years and those budget dollars that are already allotted to the school, and we slow those meters down… By slowing those meters down, we can create funding that can guarantee the performance of, annually, to do tangible improvements in the schools. Improvements like new equipment, new controls, and new technology for the schools, and the schools will save drastic amounts of energy dollars, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a penny.

“The United States government wants schools, counties, and cities to do this type of program and has made it very easy for you. The State of Tennessee has revisited this program three times, to make it easier for schools, counties, and cities to take advantage of a program like this, and get these improvements done, without having to impact your taxpayer.”

“How this works,” Mr. Mauldin continued, “we find savings in gas, electric, water. We also work with the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), which gives grant dollars out for energy savings programs as well. We can either take your energy savings and put it back into your program or for the school, or we can unencumber those dollars, so the schools can use that for whatever else, and that money comes back to them in the form of a check.”

“If we come in and say we can save the schools $130,000 a year, and we only save them $125,000, we write them a check for the difference. If we say we can save the schools $130,000 and we save $135,000 a year, every dime over that is theirs. We press the reset button every year, so there’s the guarantee in this program, by an 18 billion dollar company that Trane is.”

“When do you use a program like this,” Mr. Mauldin asked. “When you have needs in schools,” he replied, explaining, “It’s a program looking at gas, electric, and water… Right now, your schools are operating at $1.43 per square foot, and at a conservative number right now, we are saying that we can save the schools 21%, basically showing a saving of $135,000 a year, over a 15-year term, with a 20% reduction for your schools. All program costs, everything is built into this program. So, there’s nothing else that’s going to happen outside of this program. Now, if we get a little bit more aggressive, a 25% reduction gets 2.2 million dollars, and there’s no bottom line.”

“A good example is Coffee County Schools,” he explained, “They are about the same size, same demographic as Macon County Schools… They were running at $1.54 per sq.ft., versus $1.43, and now, they are performing at $1.06 per sq.ft., and are one of our best-performing portfolios in the State of Tennessee. This program makes money for your schools, and we guarantee it! It’s either budget-positive or it’s budget-neutral for your schools… The ultimate win-win scenario. No risk and is overseen by the State of Tennessee.”

“In our preliminary audit, we have found around 2.1 million dollars worth of improvements for your schools, that will cash flow in… It is all positive… We’re looking right now at a conservative number and get you to $1.16 per sq.ft. from $1.43 per sq.ft., that’s how this program works for you as well. We are going to take your savings straight from your utility bills and straight from your utility meters, that’s how we determine your savings on this too… All risk is on Trane to be able to do it, and Trane stands behind it. Being good stewards of the county tax dollars, Trane corporate checks our numbers, as well as Tennessee Efficient Schools, Tennessee Technical Advisory Council, the Tennessee Comptrollers Office, and the TVA.

“What we have found right now, is about $141,000 a year, that we can save you and this can be reinvested back into your school buildings. The steps that we have done right now are complete. The reason the School Board wanted me to talk to you is because we have submitted everything pretty quickly to the State of Tennessee. After all, the State of Tennessee is giving the schools right now, well, as of a week ago, a half-a percent interest rate in this program. As of July 1st, it went to 1.50% interest, so, if you do the math, that’s roughly saving about $40,000 per year, dealing with that interest rate, and we were able to grandfather you in at the half-a percent interest rate for this program.”

“We are looking at being able to bring everything back to the school in March or April, then we’ll come back to you in May or June, that type of thing,” he added, “We would like to do the work during Summer break, to not interfere with the learning environment whenever we can.”

“Director Carter talked, a little ago, about the windows and our engineers did the window work for the schools,” Mr. Mauldin continued, “Coffee County built a new school, while we were doing this, saying don’t put any of the new schools in the program, because it’s going to be a new school… That new school (and Coffee County was performing at $1.06 per sq.ft.) was performing at $1.76 per sq.ft., for a brand new school. They had all this equipment in the schools, but it wasn’t working together. We came back in and commissioned the brand new building and took them down to $1.22 per sq.ft. That’s the key right there to creating a sustainable building going forward, instead of building one and everybody gets out. We look at the long-term operations of the buildings and help you out with that as well. And part of that too, is we help out with the maintenance staff with standardizing of the lighting, standardizing of the plumbing, standards of other things that the school needs. By arming your front-line people with all the same equipment, it makes your supply line a lot simpler. Trane will come out every three or four months to your schools to check things. Trane owns, operates, and manages everything that’s going to go in the school, so there is one finger to point at, one person to go get.”

District 7 Commissioner Barry King asked if lighting included the ball fields. “Sure,” Mr. Mauldin replied, “Now, you have to have concrete steel poles… There was a situation over at Coffee County in Manchester, where a little girl put her hand against the pole and it electrocuted her. It was done wrong, and we went in there and fixed it for the city. It was changing out poles and underground wiring, and that is very expensive.” 

“The soccer field is pretty new,” Commissioner King stated, “but the football field is ancient.”

Following the upgrades, the school system will be using less electricity and natural gas, resulting in a reduction in energy usage annually, also reducing carbon emissions, thus joining in with other municipalities across America, supporting Trane Technologies 2030 Sustainability Commitments, including its Gigaton Challenge which aims to reduce one gigaton – or, a billion metric tons – of customers’ carbon emissions by 2030.

Resources: Manufacturer News – Trane Technologies