The Village of Oak Park is discussing green upgrades at certain facilities that could be pricey to start, but might help save dollars — and the planet — in the long run.
One notion, which gained village board approval on Monday, would involve installing giant solar panels on top of a public garage to save on energy costs. Oak Park is expecting to pay about $765,000 for the upgrade, though 75 percent of that would come from a state grant.
Another idea, which appears to be at risk, would involve drilling holes in the ground near village hall to power the council chambers using geothermal energy.
“It’s taking advantage of an abundant natural resource that can go a long way toward saving money,” said K.C. Poulos, sustainability manager for village hall.
The heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in the main meeting room at village hall, 123 Madison, is decades old and in need of a replacement. That was evident Monday, when the system got stuck, leaving council chambers in searing heat for most of the meeting.
Oak Park put out a request for proposals in October, asking companies how much it might cost to add geothermal heating in the meeting room. To do so, they’d drill seven wells along the east side of village hall, which would pull a consistent temperature from below the earth’s surface to heat or cool, depending on the season.
Adding geothermal, though, would be much more costly than expected. Five companies responded, and at the low end, it cost $205,000 for geothermal versus $155,000 for a traditional temperature system, said Vic Sabaliauskas, building maintenance superintendent for the village.
Council chambers is the only section of village hall where geothermal would work, but the room is only used for a small portion of the day, meaning it would take much longer for Oak Park to make its money back. As such, staff is recommending that the village ditch the geothermal idea and save the extra $60,000, though trustees will have the final say on Nov. 21.
“It’s more of a feel-good project than it is something that’s actually beneficial and cost effective,” Sabaliauskas said.
Other local entities have tried out geothermal in recent years, from churches to individual homeowners. Walgreens made use of the green practice when it opened its new location at Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue in November 2010, the only drugstore chain in the country with geothermal heating, according to Walgreens.
One year later, the store has reduced its expected energy usage by about 46 percent, according to Vivika Panagiotakakos, a company spokeswoman. Walgreens considered geothermal, she said, after Oak Park put wording in its laws, encouraging developers to do so.
“We’re always looking at different, innovative ways for energy savings, and when this all happened, it just made sense,” she said.
Oak Park had hoped to secure a grant to try make the numbers for the geothermal project add up, but Sabaliauskas said those opportunities are sparse for such small efforts. However, Oak Park is securing a $568,000 grant from the state to make another green effort happen.
The village plans to install solar panels atop the Avenue parking garage, located on South Boulevard just east of Oak Park Avenue. The project will cost a total of $765,000, but Oak Park expects the panels to pay off its $200,000 investment within 15 years from the energy savings. After that, the panels are expected to save another $250,000 in the following 10 years.
Oak Park hopes to have the panels installed by March and says they could last some 70 years with regular maintenance.