A multi-million dollar project to improve and update Jefferson County buildings, including the courthouse and county health department, could be paid for in total through energy cost savings, according to a representative of a company that is proposing the idea.

Neal Turner of Engie Company, a division of Opterra Energy Services, presented the plan to members of the Jefferson County Quorum Court Monday night. And while County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV said he was not asking the county's legislative body to make a decision immediately, he asked them to “give it some thought.”

“A building this age, we've got to do something,” Wilkins said.

In 2006, the county was presented with a similar plan by the company and, according to Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger, “We got within $76 the last time. The difference now is LED lighting. That put us over the top.”

In his presentation, Turner focused on several areas of county buildings that need improvement, including the heating and air conditioning units at the courthouse. Specifically, he mentioned the courtrooms on the second floor, which frequently get either too hot or too cold, depending on the time of year, creating uncomfortable conditions for judges, attorneys and juries.

“We've met with the judges and we know what their concerns are,” Turner said.

The project would also include the replacement of equipment that is in poor condition, such as the courthouse cooling tower that is leaking water at the base, new cooling units and a new boiler, as well as new electronic controls for the heating and cooling units that will allow temperatures to be regulated more precisely during periods when the building is occupied or empty.

Also in the plans is a backup generator that would allow county offices to continue to operate in the event of a power failure. Currently, the only county facility with a backup generator is the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Association (MECA). At the county health department, Turner said the roof leaks, and a rooftop unit that was salvaged from Mississippi in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina needs replacing.

Other county buildings that would receive new LED lighting and other upgrades are the adult jail, new sheriff's office building, juvenile detention center, historical museum, public defender's office and the tire shredding facility on Gravel Pit Road.

A survey of utility costs over the past 12 months for all county buildings showed that the county is spending almost $480,000 annually, and if the entire program is adopted, those costs would be cut to almost $362,000, a savings of $115,336 annually. In addition, maintenance costs over the first year are projected to decrease by $5,000, with additional savings being generated each year.

A brochure Turner passed out to members of the county's legislative body said the next step is for the company to perform a detailed audit and financial options for the county to consider. At the conclusion of the audit, the company will produce a fixed-price proposal that details the work to be performed, all costs for construction and financing options, and guaranteed utility and maintenance savings associated with the measures. The entire project is expected to be completed in about eight months.