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Board member Chris Turner attends a meeting Thursday at the Bradley County Board of Education.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A comprehensive, self-funding energy efficiency makeover may be in store for the Bradley County school system.

Tuesday evening, the Bradley County Board of Education reviewed initial findings by Energy Systems Group, an energy performance consulting company that recently analyzed all the county's school buildings and the administrative office.

Taking a systemwide approach to enhancing energy performance allows for combined energy savings to offset major investments in replacement equipment that would not necessarily see a quick payback if handled piecemeal, said Russ Nelson, business development manager for ESG.

The "nuts and bolts" of makeover projects revolves around lowering energy and operating costs, which basically comes down to replacing old equipment, Nelson said. However, it is not just about upgrading old air conditioning systems and replacing windows, he said.

"Our goal, first and foremost, is to enhance the learning environment in every space possible throughout the schools," Nelson said. "If we don't accomplish that, regardless of reducing costs and what not, we may not have really delivered the most successful project that we could."

Nelson cited two key classroom concerns: excessive lighting levels that create glare for young eyes and single-pane windows that do little to keep out heat, cold and wind. Both waste energy and negatively affect the students' space, he said.

"In the projects we've done for many other schools, we truly have made a difference in the learning environment, and we believe it makes a difference in learning outcomes," Nelson said.

Bradley County Commissioner Johnny Mull, who has served as the school system's energy management supervisor for 16 years, has voiced enthusiasm over changes that may result from the ESG study.

"I've been wanting to do this for 10 years," Mull said.

The ESG study has recommended that nine of the school system's 17 facilities undergo air conditioning improvements, with Prospect Elementary replacing its entire system. Ten buildings were cited as candidates for window replacements.

Lighting upgrades, occupancy sensors and control upgrades were recommended systemwide, with few exceptions.

Park View Elementary, which is less than 10 years old, had the fewest recommendations of any school facility. Officials agreed improvements would not be necessary for the Lake Forest Middle School classroom pods expected to be replaced by a central academic building in 2018.

While expected energy savings are projected to possibly pay for the makeovers in as soon as eight years, officials still need to address the upfront costs, school board Chairman Chris Turner said.

Discussions are underway among school officials, county commissioners and the county mayor's office concerning how best to fund any proposed changes.

"We are not looking at revenue-neutral proposals," Turner said. "This program will be revenue positive."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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