Oak Park and River Forest High School is moving ahead with geothermal heating and cooling as part of its planned renovation of athletic facilities in the southeast corner of the building. Part of the Imagine OPRF remaking of the Scoville campus, this aspect is known as Project 2. At a special meeting following a lengthy Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 8 the District 200 Board of Education voted 5-0 to seek bids for a horizontal boring geothermal and heat pump system to be installed underneath the football field and the current baseball and softball fields just west of the school.

The baseball and softball fields are scheduled to be torn up next summer when the school will build a new track there and move the baseball and softball fields south of Lake Street.

Geothermal involves putting pipes in the ground and using electric powered heat pumps to transfer the earth’s relative constant temperature to both heat and cool a building. It is more efficient than gas or electric heat and emits no greenhouse gases.

The board decided to pursue the geothermal option instead of somewhat cheaper gas or electric boilers. After incentives are factored in, the cost of installing a geothermal system is expected to be approximately $5.25 million according to district documents compared to $2.6 million for new gas boilers and $2.5 million for electric boilers. The geothermal system is projected to save nearly $9,000 a year, at projected 2024 rates, in annual operating costs over gas or electric boilers and result in fewer greenhouse emissions.

“The added cost at this juncture is the rational thing to do if in fact we are going to stick with our policy to try to begin reducing greenhouse emissions because we’re at a moment in time where we have to make some construction changes and there is an opportunity to install,” said board member Ralph Martire before voting to go forward with the geothermal option.

School board president Tom Cofsky agreed saying the additional cost of geothermal system will be paid over the long term allowing the operating savings to build up.

“It’s in support of what we need to do from an energy standpoint and the economics will be spread over a long period of time,” Cofsky said.

A geothermal system is projected to meet all of the cooling needs and 64 percent of the heating needs for the Project 2 space. The rest of the heat will have to be supplied by boilers that serve the rest of the building. OPRF currently uses gas boilers to heat and cool the building.

A geothermal system with supplemental heating is projected to emit 70 million fewer tons of greenhouse gases annually than gas boilers and 40 million fewer tons of greenhouse than electric boilers.

The geothermal design is not scheduled to formally go out to bid until late October and the school board is not expected to vote on whether to accept any geothermal bids until Dec. 15.

Village OKs lights for new athletic fields

Last week the Oak Park Village Board voted 4 to 2 to approve a special use permit to allow lights for OPRF’s new fields south of Lake Street. Village board members Ravi Parakkat and James Taglia voted against the approval of the special use permit as it did not include a prohibition of the use of a public address system which the Oak Park Plan Commission had recommended. But the majority of the village board did not feel that the village should prohibit a public address system.

The OPRF Board of Education is expected to approve an intergovernmental agreement with Park District of Oak Park regarding softball fields at Ridgeland Common at their next meeting on Sept. 22.

Stacey Sheridan contributed reporting from Oak Park village hall.

Join the discussion on social media!