Columbia's sustainability office seeks grant to help low-income areas

Monday, August 29, 2011 | 6:26 p.m. CDT; updated 3:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — The city's Office of Sustainability plans to apply for a $500,000 federal grant to fund a survey of issues in low-income areas related to housing, transportation, energy and natural resources.

Barbara Buffaloe, Columbia's sustainability manager, said the office plans to apply for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. These grants are intended to give local governments a chance to consider social equity, economic competitiveness, public health, energy use and climate change, according to the HUD website.


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The grant application will be developed through a partnership with local organizations such as Ameren, Boone Electric Cooperative, Central Missouri Community Action and the PedNet Coalition in the next few weeks, Buffaloe said.

A half-million-dollar grant would be a boon for the relatively new department, which has relied largely on federal stimulus money in its previous projects of making city-owned buildings more efficient. Despite city budget cuts, the office's operating budget will remain relatively stable in fiscal year 2012 because Buffaloe has reserved much of a $600,000 stimulus grant to be spent in 2012.

The pre-application was due last week. It will determine the department's eligibility for the grant, which will be decided by HUD at the beginning of September. The Office of Sustainability will then have 30 to 45 days to complete the full application and project proposal.  

While the grant itself does not provide money to implement projects, Buffaloe said it might lead to some in the future.  

According to a summary prepared by Buffaloe, the Office of Sustainability and its partner organizations would use this plan to look into possible projects for the future that would create a more sustainable and affordable lifestyle for Columbia residents, Buffaloe said. Many residents live in older houses that aren't equipped with energy-efficient features. This can cause high utility bills, compounded by a rising transportation expense associated with living farther from stores, jobs and other needed services.

"We're interested in addressing the barriers for affordable housing ... to see where are some of the impediments to making a successful change happen," she said. 

The full proposal for the grant money will be ready in the next few weeks, after the project partners are able to meet and finalize their plans, Buffaloe said.

Created in 2010, the office has funneled most of its funding thus far to making city-owned buildings more efficient. The federal stimulus money it has received is specifically dedicated to energy retrofit projects, which replace things such as lighting fixtures and heating controls in city-owned buildings with more energy efficient models.

Buffaloe said the office calculates a "payback" period that estimates how long it takes for energy savings to recoup the cost of the project. She created an online map that provides a cost-analysis of the projects the office has completed or is working on.

To date, the office has:

  •  Installed new lighting fixtures at the Parks Management Center. Certified electricians with the Parks and Recreation Department replaced inefficient lighting fixtures at the center this May. The office spent a little more than $23,000 and has a six-year estimated payback period.

  •  Replaced the lighting fixtures at the Landfill Operations Center and Material Recovery Facility. This project was completed in early August.

    Landfill and Recovery Superintendent Cynthia Mitchell said people who sort through recycling materials have noticed a difference with the new lights.

    “It wasn’t making it difficult with the old lights, but now it’s much brighter so it’s an obvious improvement,” she said. “It just makes the environment better.”

    The work originally cost the office about $26,000 and has an estimated payback period of five years.

The office also has several projects currently in the works, including:

  •  Recommissioning the heating and air-conditioning system at the Sanford/Kimpton Building, which houses the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. The Office of Sustainability hired a contractor this summer to check the system, including sensors and monitors, to make sure it was working.

     “They found it wasn’t turning off at night in some places and wasn’t working like it was supposed to during unoccupied hours,” Buffaloe said.

    The cooling systems were checked for the summer, but the contractor will come back in November and examine the heating system. The project cost about $14,000, including the work being done in November. Buffaloe estimates the project will save about $7,000 a year in energy costs, making the payback period two years.

    Environmental Health Manager Gerry Worley said the temperature in the building is more comfortable since the upgrade.

    "We had certain areas that were drafty and might be cold in the summertime, and it was just a little bit out of whack," he said. "We surveyed the workers and the feedback we've gotten has been very favorable."
  •  Installing new heating controls at the Grissum Building. The Office is replacing the manual thermostats with ones that are easier to use and can be accessed remotely from other city offices. Buffaloe said with the old heating controls, the heaters often ran when the buildings were unoccupied and when they weren’t needed.

    The contractors for this project began working last week and will be finished in about two weeks. It cost the city about $24,000. Buffaloe said the project will likely save the city almost $8,000 in energy costs each year, making the payback period about three years.

  • New lighting fixtures at the Heuchen Building. This project is under contract and should be completed sometime in the next few weeks. It cost about $35,000 and has a three-year estimated payback period.

Buffaloe said the office also has several projects planned for next year:

  • Installing new light fixtures at the Grissum Building. The bid for this project closes on Sept. 30, and work will start in late October or early November. Buffaloe said the city conducted an energy audit last year, which looked at every lighting fixture in the building.

    “We’re not necessarily replacing every fixture, because sometimes lights don’t have a great payback,” she said.

    The Office of Sustainability will replace some old lighting fixtures with newer, more energy efficient ones. The rough estimate of the project is $66,450. Buffaloe said it has an estimated nine-year payback period.

  • Installing new lighting fixtures at the Health Department building. The bid for this project closes Sept. 23, and Buffaloe hopes to have a contractor chosen within a week after that. Work probably will start during the end of October. This project will cost about $60,000 and has an eight-year payback period. 

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Corey Parks August 29, 2011 | 9:10 p.m.

"city sustainability manager Barbara Buffaloe has prepared outlining her goals for a $500,000 grant she hopes to get from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development"

I wonder if this women ever took a second to think about where the Dept of Housing and Urban development will be getting the money to give her. She should just cut out the middle man and send her proposal right to China.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance August 29, 2011 | 10:12 p.m.

Oh nose, another guv'ermint hater. Regurgitating the rich man's tea party liberty talking points. Sorry they are still not going to let you in the "club", though they appreciate the effort.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 29, 2011 | 10:20 p.m.

The next time the city cries poverty, remember that it still can afford a sustainability director and Percent for Art.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance August 29, 2011 | 10:26 p.m.

@ Jimmy

You failed to mention IBM and their subsidy. You must be new to the area.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 29, 2011 | 11:21 p.m.

Thanks for trying Mr Dance.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor August 29, 2011 | 11:23 p.m.

If the stated goal of the stimulus is to create jobs and "put people back to work", then I can't think of a better way to "spend" the money than give tax incentives to job creators who create jobs.

(Report Comment)
Thomas Nagel August 30, 2011 | 12:26 a.m.

It's common city practice to apply for all available federal and state grants for just about any project, crucial or otherwise.

For sustainability projects, basic information on possible options, implementation, and especially long term feasibility becomes especially necessary.

As study is always a good start.

(Report Comment)
Thomas Nagel August 30, 2011 | 12:32 a.m.

There's also some smart stuff in the document concerning our city's poor population spending too much on utilities as opposed to groceries and necessities.

We got to be good to our neighbors.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 30, 2011 | 8:10 a.m.

Tom N. - "It's common city practice to apply for all available federal and state grants for just about any project, crucial or otherwise."

Right Tom, we are reminded of the liberal mantra: Always oppose fiscal irresponsibility in every instance! However, if the money is there......

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 30, 2011 | 8:27 a.m.

"You failed to mention IBM and their subsidy. You must be new to the area."

I didn't know that I had to post a laundry list for you. Yes, I'm opposed to subsidies, TIFs, etc. not only for IBM but for the Tiger Hotel and similar projects.

BTW, aren't you still based in KC? If so, there are plenty of subsidies in your own back yard to gripe about.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 30, 2011 | 8:36 a.m.

Yeah like we need more stimulus.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 30, 2011 | 11:39 a.m.

"Yeah like we need more stimulus."

Rush, the entertainer, just guesstimated that Obama will require another 11/2 T$ for the awaited "jobs" plan. It must be more than the last one, because the last one wasn't enough. Thank God for a Republican House!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 30, 2011 | 11:57 a.m.

Tim, weren't most of the subsidies for IBM from the state and not Columbia?

(Report Comment)
Elizabeth Pearl August 30, 2011 | 2:21 p.m.

You all have made some interesting points that we hadn't considered when writing this article - particularly about the ethicality of departments applying for these grants.
Thank you these comments, we encourage our readers to speak out on the issues we write about.

Elizabeth Pearl, Columbia Missourian reporter

(Report Comment)

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