Paquin Tower renovated with geothermal pumps, energy efficient equipment

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 | 9:42 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Paquin Tower's heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems have begun harnessing heat from beneath the ground.

The geothermal heating and cooling system and other energy-efficient renovations were highlighted during an open house and building tour from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. Paquin Tower was completed in June 1973 and is home to low-income elderly people and persons with disabilities, according to the Public Housing section of the Columbia Housing Authority's website. 

Geothermal system renovations

The Tower's renovations totaled nearly $2.8 million. The eco-friendly renovations were funded through a grant and funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Housing and Urban Development funds, according to a Columbia Housing Authority document.

Among the renovations, two gas-fired boilers and their piping were removed for the installation of the geothermal system. Thermal energy from 40 underground geothermal wells is distributed by new piping throughout the building and is then converted to heating or cooling through a new heat pump in each apartment. These pumps and exchangers were also installed for the hot water system, according to the Housing Authority document.

Dennis Cotter, principal for CM Engineering of Columbia, performed the design work for the geothermal system. He explained that the ground is used essentially as a "massive storage device."

During the summer, heat is extracted from the air-conditioned apartments and sent to the geothermal wells to be pumped back to the apartments for heating during the winter months.

According to a Housing Authority document, the largest utility savings for Paquin Tower was in natural gas. From July 2010 to June 2011, gas expenses totaled $70,868. Comparatively, gas expenses from July 2011 to June 2012 were $12,443, an 82 percent decrease. Cotter pointed to the removal of the two gas-fired boilers as the main cause for the decline in expenses.

Additional 'green' renovations

Additional renovations to Paquin Tower cost more than $3.6 million. The improvements include:

  • Energy-efficient windows in all apartments and main lobby — $367,233
  • Energy-efficient lighting and water-conserving toilets, sink/shower aerators — $71,050
  • Energy Star refrigerators and stoves — $91,400
  • Energy Star washing machines and dryers — $32,640
  • Lobby renovations, including accessible mailboxes — $83,647
  • New interior apartment doors — $43,933
  • New roofing system for the building — $146,489

Residents say ...

David Dollens, 70, is an "old-timer" who has lived in Paquin Tower for 12 years. He cited his career in maintenance at MU when describing the new geothermal system, explaining that crews did a perfect job without making a mess.

"I've never had (a heating system) that good," Dollens said.

He said that before the geothermal renovations, residents had to pay $25 per month for five months to operate a window air-conditioning unit, so he welcomed the annual savings. He also remembers using a personal heater, to make up for a cool first-floor apartment when he first moved in. Now he sets his thermostat to 70 and has "not had to mess with it."

Phyllis Ward, 71, who has also lived in Paquin Tower for 12 years, proudly motioned toward the renovated exercise room stocked with treadmills, elliptical machines and weight sets.

"The exercise room is my second home, and the treadmill is my favorite machine," Ward said.

The scale of the renovations has affected Ward in a positive way.

"I feel privileged to live here now," she added.

Fellow resident Michelle Adams, 23, said the changes to the main lobby look much nicer.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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