KULPMONT - One of the arguments borough council members have used to support constructing a new municipal complex is the money that will be saved on heating and electricity.

Getting out of the 75-year-old former Wilson Grade School, heated by fuel oil, and into a new building heated by a geothermal heat pump and natural gas, and equipped with energy-saving LED lighting, would lower annual heating and electricity costs from $28,000 to $6,000, according to estimates.

The $22,000 in savings is equivalent to four of the $5,439 monthly payments the borough would pay each year for 40 years as estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which said it will back Kulpmont for a $1.47 million loan. USDA advised borough officials in a report in spring 2013 to expect an interest rate of about 3.125 percent.

Still, the prospect of borrowing that much money, and for 40 years, with a total payback of some $2.5 million, has citizens concerned. Pressure for council to consider options has stalled progress on the project and prompted council to schedule a fresh public meeting Tuesday night to discuss the issue.

The former Wilson Grade School on Spruce Street, a two-story building containing some 14,000 square feet, was given a second life as the borough's administrative home more than 30 years ago. A pole building maintenance garage is on the same property.

The new complex would include a 4,000-square-foot building and 5,000-square-foot maintenance garage on Fir Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, near the Holy Angels picnic grounds.

The original plan was to construct a 3,000-square-foot building in which the police department would be in the basement. To cut costs, however, the basement was eliminated and the building expanded to 4,000 square feet.

While officials thought earlier this year it might be occupied by September, debate about the project has slowed progress. The borough hasn't even sought bids.

Spending on fuel oil

Council has budgeted $18,000 for heating fuel for the past five years for its current municipal building.

In 2013, delivery invoices show the borough purchased 4,688.4 gallons of heating oil at a cost of $15,732.02.

The borough spent another $7,308.77 last year on heating oil for the borough garage, a separate building on the same property.

The $23,040.79 total is less than the $30,000 cited by some council members as the borough's annual heating costs, "but that is still a high amount to spend," Councilman Stephen Motyka, a construction supervisor by trade who is overseeing the building project, said Friday. "With the new building, we will not spend that much."

Kulpmont had 13 deliveries of oil for the borough building in 2013. The highest price was $3.549 a gallon in February and the lowest was $2.999 in May.

From January to April of this year, the borough has received seven deliveries of 3,539.5 gallons of fuel oil. The highest price was $3.749 Feb. 26 and the lowest, Jan. 15, $3.379

As of April 2013, the borough had spent $11,044.94. As of about the same time this year, the total was $12,521.15, according to invoices.

In addition to the $15,732.02 in heating oil costs in 2013, the borough had budgeted $12,000 for electricity costs. The borough has budgeted $10,000 in 2014.

Savings predicted

Council member Clarence Deitrick said previously the two-story Wilson building has one thermostat that's in the meeting room, which is on the second floor, and that it has to be turned up to 90 in order to adequately heat the Kulpmont Senior Action Center, which is on the first floor.

Motyka said the geothermal heat pump would be the primary heating source, with a natural gas unit as a supplement.

"In talking with our engineers, the new heating system, along with new lighting, will drive our energy costs down to $1.50 a square foot, or about $6,000 a year," Motyka said. "The heat pump, as a primary source, could drive that price down even more."

The pump is more expensive up front, however, than the typical natural gas furnace. An Internet search on installation costs of a 60,000 BTU geothermal heat pump puts the price at approximately $20,000 to $25,000, compare to $2,500 to $14.000 for a natural gas furnace of the same size. The 60,000 BTU size is capable of heating a 2,500 square-foot home, according to the sites.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates geothermal units pay for themselves in two to 10 years after installation.

Line Mountain estimated annual energy savings of 40 percent when it installed a geothermal heat pump at its school in Trevorton in 2011.

Tax increase

To help pay for the building, Kulpmont increased property taxes by 4.5 mills, or 20 percent, for 2014. The average property owner is paying $35 to $40 more in 2014 based on the 4.5-mill increase.

Council members have said they would consider reducing the tax rate if the new building is constructed for less than the $1.47 million estimate and based on the expected heating and electricity savings.

Council members discussed repairing the current facility, but estimated in August 2012 it would cost approximately $750,000, including $400,000 to fix roof leaks; $250,000 to repair masonry and $100,000 to revamp the heating system.

Opponents suggested those costs were inflated, so the borough had another analysis done this March by Baer Wolfe Architects, of Sunbury. It showed renovating the first floor of the building would cost $1.8 million. Renovation of the second floor would add $700,000.

The new buildings will house administration offices, maintenance and street departments, borough vehicles, the police department, code office, mayor's office, board room, community room, food pantry, outside recycling Dumpsters and equipment, Motyka said. The expanded police station, which would take up about one-third of the building, features an interrogation room and evidence locker, something that doesn't exist in the second-floor police station today, a classroom-sized room adjacent to council chambers. Police will also have a separate entrance at the end of the building, away from the administrative offices.

The maintenance building will have four bays, along with two offices, a break room, utility room and restroom.

A 30-space parking area that will feature trees and shrubs will separate the two buildings, and there will be covered porches at the police and administrative entrances.