Expecting to reap savings that will cover the cost of the investment over time, the Belle Plaine School District is considering spending up to $740,000 on high-efficiency interior lighting in the next year or two.
Monday night (March 13) in a workshop, the school board unanimously agreed staff should continue researching a plan to install high-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in all used classrooms and gymnasiums in the district’s four buildings. The district’s plan is to issue an alternative facility bond up to $740,000 for up to 15 years, said Chuck Keller, the district’s business manager.
Jeff Heine, the district’s director of facilities and grounds, wants to see the work done this summer as long as all the bids and estimates are in line with the district’s plans and budget for the project.
Keller said the district’s expectation is that the savings in electricity will cover the annual bond payments. The district spends about $125,000 a year on electricity, he said. Over 15 years, the alternative facility bond would cost the district an estimated $62,000 in principal and interest annually.
The district had the Center for Energy & Environment, (CEE), an arm of Xcel Energy, perform an audit of the district’s electricity usage earlier this year. With that information, two firms – Cedar Creek of Coon Rapids and TruNorth of Edina -- offered bids on potential hardware and installation for the retrofitting. Cedar Creek’s bid was just over $688,300 while TruNorth’s bid was $806,658.
With rebates, Cedar Creek’s bid is just under $601,000. TruNorth’s bid, with rebates, is just over $718,700.
The LED lighting is expected to be more efficient and last longer than the fluorescent tubes and fixtures in the district’s four buildings. Heine noted the savings to the district  would be greater when staff time for changing fluorescent tubes and fixtures is added to the equation. LED drivers are expected to last 15 to 20 years. Fluorescent lighting ballasts are expected to last 10 to 12 years, Heine said.
Director Joe Vandermark suggested visiting another school where the LED lighting has been installed or having the LED lighting installed in one classroom for the board to see the potential impact.
Heine said he has held off changing large numbers of light fixtures because the fluorescent lights are nearing the end of their anticipated life span.
Director Terry Kahle wants to see all the lighting up and running as soon as possible. He said lights not working gives visitors a poor impression of Belle Plaine’s facilities. The lighting would also come with controls to allow greater flexibility and efficiency. It would allow lights to be adjusted for greater intensity in rooms where more light is needed or less light in rooms with more available lighting.
District staff will continue to work with contractors to make sure the estimates are solid. The board expects to address the issue at an upcoming business meeting, Keller said.

Ball Field
The school board also discussed at Monday’s workshop a proposal to improve the district’s softball complex at Oak Crest Elementary School in a similar manner to which it improved the weight room at the high school.
The board discussed plans for investing $150,000 into improving the complex with contributions from the community and the softball and baseball associations to defray the investment. Superintendent Ryan Laager said work on the proposal could begin later this spring, following the conclusion of the high school softball season.
Plans call for a multi-level restroom/concession and observation facility built in the middle of the four fields. Sewer and water lines would be run from Schoolhouse Drive into the complex. The field used by the BPHS varsity softball team would receive new concrete block dugouts and a batting cage.
The four softball fields have already been re-cut to accommodate softball as well as youth baseball up to the U-14 level. The district’s hope is that by improving the fields and facility, it will attract more softball and baseball tournaments, events that will hopefully draw more people to Belle Plaine, an influx that could spur retail business development.
A cooperative project has some history of success in Belle Plaine. Last year, the school district invested $80,176 in a new weight room to benefit phy-ed, community-education and student athletes. The project included $48,017.55 in new equipment. The district has received $46,100 in contributions to the project, Keller said.
Bids for the project could be considered at an upcoming board meeting. Keller said bidding individual elements of the overall project might spare the district the time of a bidding process. Items over $100,000 have to be bid publicly. Vandermark suggested a full bidding process in the name of transparency.