When Shawn Batman asked her fourth-grade class at Northwest Elementary if they would rather be at school before a geothermal heating and cooling unit was installed last summer, 15 or so children answered quickly in unison, "No."


     When Shawn Batman asked her fourth-grade class at Northwest Elementary if they would rather be at school before a geothermal heating and cooling unit was installed last summer, 15 or so children answered quickly in unison, "No."
     Last April, USD 443's Board of Education approved the installation of a geothermal heating and cooling unit at Northwest Elementary for a little more than $1 million.
     Funding for the project came from a $212,500 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus. The rest of the money came from the district's capital outlay fund.
     Morris Reeves, energy manager for Dodge City, Ford County and USD 443, said the investment is already starting to pay off.
     In August 2010, electrical usage for Northwest was 30,080 kilowatt hours. A year later, the school used 14,880 kilowatt hours — roughly a 50 percent difference.

A better environment
     Originally, Northwest was served by a combination of systems including steam-unit ventilators and fin-tube radiators in classrooms. There were some convectors serving smaller rooms, and split-gas-fire units provided heating and cooling to the gymnasium and kitchen.
     "The remaining spaces in the building were air-conditioned by window mounted air-conditioners installed in 1994," Reeves wrote in material provided to the Globe. "Due to their age, many of these air-conditioners were limited in their ability to cool the classrooms and were quite noisy to the extent the noise disrupted the teaching environment."
     And that was a problem.
     Northwest principal Kathy Ramsour said the air conditioners were so loud, that teachers would turn them down in order to teach their students effectively. Not only that, the units didn't even do a good job of cooling the classrooms.
     "At best, on say a 100-degree day, they would cool a room to 90. About 10 degrees is what you could ask of a heat pump," Ramsour said Wednesday in a cool, quiet office. "And when the teachers were teaching, in order for the kids to hear them, they had to turn off the heat pumps so they could teach. And then they had to turn them back on so they could be cool."
     So the unit has been a long time coming. And according to Batman's fourth-grade class, the new unit has made a huge difference.
     "I feel better after recess because there is more cool air than warm air," one student said.
     A little girl in the classroom said she likes the new unit better because she can hear her teacher.
     Much of the construction took place by digging wells on the playground. Some of Batman's students said they were concerned about the construction at first. But after realizing the benefits that it has given them this school year, it turned out to not be that big a deal.

     Reach Mark Reagan at (620) 408-9931 or email him at mark.reagan@dodgeglobe.com.