Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Harnessing the earth

Washington Elementary to be cooled with geothermal; will start cooking own meals
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Jun 21, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo School officials tour Washington Elementary School Wednesday to get a glimpse of the progress being made on the installation of geothermal heating/cooling, a new kitchen, and a new electrical system. From left are school board member Kelly Scott, facilities director Jeff Koontz, business manager Kim Sheets, school board member Jennifer Anderson and superintendent Laurie Noll.

Washington Elementary School is receiving a $2.8 million makeover this summer.

The changes are largely behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be felt. The biggest change is that the school will now have air conditioning, courtesy of a geothermal heating and cooling system being installed underground.

A more visible development will come in the kitchen, which has not prepared food in ages. Meals have always been cooked in the middle school’s kitchen, and taken by van to Washington. That will end this fall when Washington will start cooking its own food.

Lights throughout the building are being switched to LED (light emitting diode), and the electrical system is being upgraded to handle more power. Fairfield Community School District facilities director Jeff Koontz said the building was using the maximum amps available. That meant the school had to unplug a window air conditioner in order to use the kiln in the art room.

The parking lot southeast of the school will be expanded to accommodate more teacher associates. Koontz said the school will add 14 spots by pouring concrete on what is now grass.

An interior wall was knocked down that once separated a computer lab from a preschool room, which will occupy the entire space. Superintendent Laurie Noll said students can access iPads in their classrooms, so there is no longer need for a computer lab.



Koontz said that the temperature of the earth is a constant 55 degrees about 50 feet below the surface. A geothermal system harnesses this constant temperature by using it to cool buildings in the summer and heat them in the winter.

Washington’s geothermal system is being installed under the ball fields south of the school. One hundred and forty-three wells were dug to a depth of 180 feet, and tubes were sent down them. The tubes contain water, which will hold the heat until it reaches the building. They’re visible now, but everything will be hidden underground by the start of the school year. Koontz said the grass will be replanted, and the students will resume playing on the ground as if there was never any construction.

Koontz and Noll see two major consequences from the installation of geothermal heating: Less sickness in the winter thanks to the geothermal system moving air; and a more comfortable environment for students and faculty on hot days.

Late May was particularly warm this year, prompting the district to dismiss two hours early three days in a row. Noll said that decision was made to accommodate the students at Washington, the only building in the district without air conditioning. Once the building’s geothermal system is up and running, early-outs for heat will be a thing of the past.



Noll said Washington has never cooked meals in its entire history.

“This will be huge to have a full, workable kitchen in the school,” she said.

Water, electric and gas lines will be added to the school to accommodate the increased demand for them in the kitchen.

Koontz said the old system of trucking the food from the middle school didn’t work well. He said the quality of the food will be much better this coming school year.

Business manager Kim Sheets said the school had to closely monitor the temperature of the food in transport to ensure it was still hot by the time it was served at Washington.

Noll mentioned that Washington students disproportionately brought sack lunches to school, and she hopes that will change now that meals will be cooked in house.

About 280 students attend Washington, though that counts the two preschool programs that come every other day, so there are not 280 kids in the building at one time. Washington once had all elementary grades, but that changed last year with grade alike.

Now all preschoolers through first-graders in the district attend Washington, while all second- through fourth-graders attend Pence.


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