The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 24, 2013

Blacklick Valley district eyes geothermal system

NANTY GLO — Blacklick Valley School District might tap into the energy buried under the earth’s surface to heat and cool its elementary school.

District officials are exploring the idea of using a geothermal system in the school, which is in line for renovations in 2014.

A series of test wells will be drilled in the coming months – a move Superintendent John Mastillo said will give the board a better picture of what the project would entail.

“Right now, it’s something we’re considering but there is still a lot of information to gather at this point,” Mastillo said.

“If it all works out, it definitely would have its benefits,” he said. “But it’s all part of a lengthy process.”

For now, several test wells will be drilled in a field alongside the elementary to determine the number of total wells the district would need to have underneath the school, Mastillo said.

The district is still trying to get a solid estimate on how much the project would mean to its overall elementary school renovation, but planners estimate the district would save 15 percent on its heating bills by making the switch to the closed-loop geothermal system.

The district has some time to explore its options. It is looking to upgrade its heating system while other work is underway to upgrade other parts of the elementary, including windows and infrastructure. The project would likely begin in May, Mastillo said.

The district is still steering that project through a Department of Education-mandated planning process, he added.

But Blacklick has been considering a geothermal system in the elementary for several years, Mastillo said.

Windber’s elementary has operated such as system since the 1990s, he said. And in recent months, the district talked with administrators at Curwensville Area, who recently made the move from a coal-fired system to a closed loop, heat pump-operated geothermal system that would likely be very similar to Blacklick’s.

Curwensville Superintendent Norman Hatten said his district is “very comfortable” – literally – with the new system.

“In terms of total performance, it’s so much different. It used to be in the low 60s when staff arrived in the morning with the old coal system, and we’d have to get it going,” Hatten said. “Now, we walk into a nice steady warm temperature ... and it’s that way all winter long.”

The district uses 144 wells underneath a practice field to fuel its geothermal system, Hatten said. It serves an 1,100-student K-to-12 complex, he said. 

Curwensville used a combination of $750,000 in loans and grants to add its system, he said, and plans on doing a cost analysis for the full 2012-2013 school year once the school year ends to see how the system is faring value-wise.

“It’s hard to say at this point because we ran two different systems at once for a while – and renovations were ongoing last year, which also uses electricity,” he said.

“But the early returns look good.”

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