Report tallies pros of energy retrofit at Hopkins Academy

Hadley Hopkins Academy

Hadley Hopkins Academy

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-24-2024 11:54 AM

HADLEY — A deep energy retrofit planned for Hopkins Academy, using ground-source heat pumps, would cut more than three-quarters of the building’s greenhouse gas emissions and would significantly reduce estimated expenses associated with the health and climate impacts from burning fossil fuels, according to a report presented to the Hadley School Committee this week.

Using what is known as the CoBE tool, also known as the Co-benefits of the Built Environment tool developed by a research team at Harvard, Boston and Oregon State universities, the School Committee was shown how the in-progress project to replace the existing boilers, part of a 10-year, $12.65 million capital plan, will benefit the town and the region.

Sara Ross, an Amherst-based consultant with UndauntedK12, an organization that helps schools across the country to move to zero-carbon emissions, presented statistics that greenhouse gas emissions produced by Hopkins would drop from 338 metric tons to 71 metric tons a year and the energy footprint for the building would see a similar decline.

“You’re seeing how they dramatically fall when we make these improvements to your building,” Ross said.

In addition, the $73,122 estimated annual combined impact on health and climate costs, associated with extreme weather’s toll on properties and people’s well-being, drops to $10,141. Ross said this is calculated based on current greenhouse gas emissions and how they create climate changes for communities, such as extreme weather, and then put them in dollar figures.

School Committee Chairwoman Humera Fasihuddin said these climate costs have been seen, such as the flooding and blight and many crops being affected. “It is the kind of impact that hasn’t been seen in years past,” Fasihuddin said. “It feels very real and tangible.”

The project is around $1.8 million to replace boilers. But UndauntedK12 previously did a scoping study last summer that outlined existing incentives and reimbursements from both the federal government, through the Inflation Reduction Act, and Eversource, as the local power supplier. That study shows four options for the 62,000-square-foot building that was built in 1954, including three air-source based and one ground-source based, ranging in price from $930,000 to $3.65 million.

But after incentives from Eversource and in the federal legislation for the various options, the cost to the schools and town would go down to between $618,000 and $1.7 million.

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Fasihuddin said the hope is to do the project at around $900,000, substantially reducing the economic impact for the town. In addition, Fasihuddin noted that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has a new program for schools to go through this path, which if Hadley is accepted would reduce the cost to lower than $900,000.

Christopher Desjardins, the district’s director of finance and operations, said the first walk through with the designer for ground-source heat pumps is this week. In February, the committee selected Clough, Harbour & Associates, LLP of Boston to handle aspects of the deep energy retrofit and geothermal HVAC system conversion project.

Ross said that the planned deep energy retrofit will also get the school ahead of any possible changes to the state building code, observing that Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has spearheaded a threshold for buildings in that city. With the proposed improvements, Hopkins Academy could meet even that high standard in the city 25 years from now.

From a policy perspective, Ross said using geothermal heat pumps is a “good future-proofing decision to make this switch” that prepares Hadley schools for a statewide policy that could be based on Boston’s regulations.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.