Half of Ashland University’s buildings were constructed 25 to 35 years ago. By the mid-1990s, the major mechanical systems in most of these 28 buildings had approached the end of their useful life. Maintenance costs to keep the heating, cooling, and other operating equipment functioning were rising each year. The university could not afford to replace all of the systems that needed replacing. And it didn’t have sufficient staff to perform preventive maintenance on so large a scale.

The financial picture was further complicated because Ashland University, which is situated between the major cities of Cleveland and Columbus, prides itself on professors giving students individual attention. The university’s low student-faculty ratio of 15:1 comes at a price. To preserve this academic distinction, long-overdue building improvements had to be deferred.

Performance Contract Solves Problem

To solve this problem, Ashland University teamed with Johnson Controls, Inc. (Milwaukee), which previously installed energy management systems in six other campus buildings. The result was a 10-year program that includes a $4.7 million performance contract to improve lighting; replace 13 heating systems, four air conditioning systems and five roofs; install a Metasys® system to automate temperature controls in 28 buildings; and add utility meters in each building to measure energy consumption.

Training the university staff to operate the system was also factored into the agreement. “We trained Ashland staff on-site and at the Johnson Controls Institute in Milwaukee. We continue to provide additional training as needed,” said Tom Erlenwein, Johnson Controls project manager.

Entire Project Costs Covered

The building improvements and service contract are structured to pay for themselves over a 10-year period through the savings generated. According to the agreement, Johnson Controls is financially responsible for making sure the savings materialize each year. This enables Ashland University to continue investing resources into differentiating itself academically from other schools that are competing for students and top faculty.

When deciding how to use the projected savings, the administration stressed the importance of reinvesting in the facilities and infrastructure. “We emphasized that first impressions are formed by facilities and grounds,” recalls James A. Barnes, vice president, business affairs. “Potential students and their parents care about how a campus is maintained and whether they are comfortable inside the buildings. You need good facilities to support the educational mission, so there must be a balance between academic and nonacademic spending.”

The construction period was spread over a two-year time period to minimize the inconvenience to the staff and students. This allowed the majority of the work to be completed during the summers.

“Because of our high level of communication with Ashland, we were able to do a complex installation involving heating and air conditioning in one of the main buildings on campus without shutting it down to students and staff,” said Erlenwein. “We communicated successfully with everyone at the university which kept the personnel informed and eliminated any possible surprises.”

Saving Begins Immediately

As a result of the project, Ashland University has experienced an 11% increase in utility savings alone. This doesn’t include the operational savings and has resulted in catching a problem that would have otherwise gone unnoticed: a $93,000 overcharge was discovered for the gas meter in the university’s field house. The meter had been replaced and incorrect units were being read and charged. This error would not have been found if it were not for the guaranteed savings program, which monitored consumption and verified savings.

To date, the university has enjoyed a total of $364,998 in savings, which includes $98,288 utility savings during the installation phase; $127,117 of utility savings during the first year; and $46,593 in savings from the gas purchase agreement in the Utility Management Program.

Environmentally, Ashland University will save approximately 780,000 kWh of electricity annually through the implementation of the lighting retrofit project. By reducing electrical consumption, the following emissions will be avoided each year: carbon dioxide (583,176 lbs), sulfur dioxide (9,9180 lbs), and nitrous oxide (4,302 lbs).

Ashland University is enjoying a period of steady enrollment growth that will necessitate expansion of physical space. Within the next three to five years, the university plans to build a new sports complex, erect a four-story addition to the science building, and renovate its business building. Resolving the deferred maintenance backlog through a performance contracting partnership with Johnson Controls has helped make these projects possible.