Poudre Valley School District Sets the Bar High for Green Schools

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For almost two decades, the Poudre Valley School District (“PSD”) in Ft. Collins, Colo. has been a vanguard of energy conservation and management initiatives on a national level.  In an era of ever-shrinking budgets, fewer dollars expended on energy means more of the district’s funds can go toward actual education.  For PSD, it isn’t just about ‘being green’:  reducing energy costs is essential to protecting the educational mission of the schools.


In the late 1990s, PSD began exploring energy- and cost-efficient designs for new construction to be funded by a school district bond.  A team of PSD planning, design and construction staff chose the new facilities and operations building to launch cutting-edge, energy-efficient technology it planned to include in subsequent construction projects throughout the district.   The team used PSD’s newly approved Sustainable Design Guidelines (adopted in 2000), ENERGY STAR ratings and other available tools as parameters to create its energy management targets.  After exhaustive research, which included independent assessment and evaluation of HVAC systems then available, the PSD team specified a geoexchange-driven system for the new building.


Primarily constructed to house PSD administrative staff, the facilities and operations building also serves a notable educational function.  It was specifically designed to showcase all energy-saving aspects of the building, including maximized daylighting and automated light dimming. The building was also designed with a glass-enclosed mechanical room which permits students, parents and members of the community to observe several components of the geoexchange system, including the entry point of the ground loop pipes and a number of its heat pumps in action.  Red, green and blue lights additionally communicate to observers when the geoexchange system is in heating (red) or cooling (blue) mode, as well as when the system is not operating (green) and windows should be opened to circulate temperate outdoor air.


The PSD construction team, including architect Mellin & Associates, general contractor Thissen Construction Corporation and mechanical engineer RMH Group, Inc., evaluated the projected performance, energy savings, maintenance data and costs, access to repair and filters, and ease of installation of several geothermal heat pump suppliers. EMC Engineers, the commissioning agent, collaborated with the owner and design team to select ClimateMaster’s horizontal and vertical Genesis Packaged (GS) Series geothermal heat pump units over two other manufacturers’ products in a competitive bid process.  According to PSD energy manager Stu Reeve, who has spent almost 25 years analyzing geothermal technology and has visited various manufacturers’ facilities, “ClimateMaster units are excellently designed and built with maintenance personnel in mind – they are easy to access and work with.”

The project’s GeoExchange consultant and commissioning agent, Trey Austin, then an engineer with EMC Engineers (and now president of Geo Energy Services, LLC), chose ClimateMaster Genesis Packaged Series geothermal heat pumps to supply the HVAC needs for the new building.  Austin, who has worked for more than 17 years in the geothermal heat exchange business, recalls this project was high-profile as the technology was new in Colorado and it was the first-ever geothermal project to be constructed in Ft. Collins.  According to Austin, because the operations building would serve as a test case for PSD, he had to be certain the system would perform better than projected.

Inside the building, 9 ClimateMaster Genesis Packaged (GS) vertical units supplying 18 tons of total capacity were installed above the ceiling between the first and second levels to heat and cool each of the building’s 9 zones. Outside, a geothermal borehole field comprised of 18 300-ft. deep bore holes was drilled by GHP Systems, Inc. who also installed 5,400 feet of HDPE pipe in a vertical loop configuration under what is now the parking lot adjacent to the building.  Drilling and pipe installation occurred in January and February of 2002, and the entire HVAC system was operational when the building opened in May of that same year.

Admittedly, not everyone on the PSD team was initially on board with the use of geothermal heat pumps.  As Tom Weatherly, then HVAC department head recalls, “I fought tooth and nail against using geothermal heat pumps because I was worried about refrigerant leaks and compressor or heat exchange failures.”  After 11 years of operation, Weatherly’s concerns have been allayed completely.  He is now a proponent of the technology, firmly believing that the energy saving achievements and functionality of the geothermal heat exchange system, “have surpassed all of our expectations.  Since their installation more than a decade ago, the ClimateMaster heat pump units have required no replacements at all – of motors or compressors.  The only maintenance needed has been routine changing of the filters.”

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