Construction for an energy-efficiency project in Sebastian County is nearing completion.

Sebastian County Building Engineer/Supervisor Mark Kilgore said Thursday construction would be finished around two weeks. A Times Record article on Feb. 16 states construction began Jan. 29, with it scheduled to be completed today.  

County Judge David Hudson said control systems being installed can regulate the temperature of county buildings and can be overseen and managed from a central point. The county did not have such systems prior to this project.

"And some of the implementation of those control systems has caused some impacts on office operations where either the offices were cold or the offices were hot, and so that's created some concern amongst some of the elected officials and employees as to the impact of changes in our programming here, and we'll be actively addressing those," Hudson said. "I'm hoping that the control system debugging process can be expedited and completed so we can eliminate that."

Hudson said the county also sustained some storm damage that shut down a building recently. This resulted in the county having to bring the building back up and the building getting hot. Kilgore said this took place in the Fort Smith Courthouse on Monday.

"Overall, I think the systems that have been put in are going to be an enhancement for everybody, but we're going to work to make sure that we establish operating policies that guarantee that the comfort level in all the offices and departments are appropriate and that the court system is supported properly, including the jurors that are serving in a high service to the community by serving on a jury," Hudson said. "We don't want anybody to be uncomfortable."

The Sebastian County Quorum Court approved an emergency ordinance authorizing the county to complete an energy-efficiency project during its Nov. 21 regular meeting. It also approved an ordinance authorizing the funding of the Arkansas EPC Program for the county. EPC is a financing mechanism used to pay for energy efficiency improvements all at once, which are paid back through annual energy savings.

In a presentation to the Quorum Court during its Sept. 19 meeting, Michael Grabham, the south regional director of the Dallas-based company McKinstry, said some facility improvement measures would be applied to all county buildings while others would be applied for specific buildings.

In the scope of the project, Hudson said, the county was unable to address the full Sebastian County Adult Detention Center mechanical systems.

"The mechanical engineering specifications were completed as a part of this project," Hudson said. "That system has been put out on the marketplace by McKinstry to get a cost of upgrading the mechanical systems in the existing jail just for a reference point, so that will be a future report that we obtain and we'll brief the Quorum Court on that, and that relates to pending issues to deal with the existing jail building."

There are 18 HVAC systems containing the refrigerant R22 in the existing detention center that were not replaced, Hudson said. The county understands this must be addressed in 2020.

When asked what some of the most major parts of this project were, Hudson said one of the most significant investments of funds was about $1.8 million that went into improvements in the existing detention center. This included the replacement of the boiler there.

"The reason it was so critical was the three existing boiler systems that were in that building were at the end of ... their useful life expectancy, and had had regular mechanical failures, and it was a constant maintenance nightmare," Kilgore said.  

More efficient lighting was also put in place in all county buildings, Hudson said. Kilgore said a total of 33 HVAC systems were replaced in the scope of the project as well.

One of the unanticipated benefits from this project, Hudson said, was the identification of some mechanical system weaknesses in the Sebastian County courts building in Fort Smith.

"And those could've produced leaks in the system there that could've disrupted office operations or court proceedings, so Mark was able to identify that, and we were able to add that to the scope of the ... work through the contractors," Hudson said.

Hudson said McKinstry will be monitoring the utility usage in the county buildings for the next three years. It will also provide monthly reports to the county on both projected and actual energy savings. The county has not seen these reports yet.

The project total is an amount exceeding $5 million, and the financing plan approved by the Quorum Court as part of the ordinance is over 15 years at 2.85 percent interest.