Upgrades to public commercial facilities in Chicago could be used as a funding model for other municipalities.
Upgrades to public commercial facilities in Chicago could be used as a funding model for other municipalities. Upgrades to public commercial facilities in Chicago could be used as a funding model for other municipalities.

Chicago is undertaking energy efficiency upgrades on many of its aquatics centers in a program that could serve as a model for other cities.

The Chicago Park District put an agreement into place for aquatics centers under its purview: The Chicago Infrastructure Trust will upgrade the district’s aquatics centers for energy efficiency. In February, CIT will seek a similar deal with the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education.

“The project provides for a better experience at the pools for the citizens of the city and the students,” said Steve Beitler, CEO of CIT.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel created CIT in 2012 to find alternate financing for infrastructure projects in the city. Energy efficiency seems to be high on its list of priorities: To date, CIT has one other project under way: retrofitting 60 municipal buildings for energy savings.

CIT is expected to perform intensive energy audits on all 141 aquatics centers held by Parks and the schools. The audits will help officials determine a list of projects to consider, with those yielding the highest return on investment to be chosen.

Renovations could be made to the pools, with changes such as pump or filter upgrades, or to the facilities, with the addition of new windows, solar panels, boilers and other energy-saving components.

“I would assume sometime before the end of 2016 we will be done with the whole process,” Beitler said.

The program is expected to help meet a goal of Emanuel’s — to improve the overall efficiency of city buildings by 10 percent. But reductions closer to 15 or 20 percent are expected in the aquatics centers.

The age of the facilities involved will play a role in the benefit.

“The older [the facility] is, the better opportunity for these types of projects to pay off,” said Jeff Nodorft, principal of St.Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker.

Financing won’t come from operational budgets, but will be paid through energy savings. For example, Beitler said, if a facility paid $10 in energy costs per month, but the upgrades save 50 percent, that $5 savings would go toward financing of the project for the loan term. Once the loan is paid off, the savings would benefit the facility.

“It’s creative in its funding,” Nodorft said of the endeavor. “I think there’s going to be a strong interest in this initiative.”

Many cities across the country have aquatics facilities in need of upgrades. Some have performed work completely financed by grants and energy credits, but the Windy City’s approach is a first, which could provide a model for others.

“I think we will find that other municipalities, when they see that it’s working in Chicago and the sky doesn’t fall and there’s not an earthquake, will embrace it as well,” Beitler said. “… I think that the structure that was put into place is a good one that can be put into place anywhere.”

The CIT will act as project developer and project manager of the renovations. Washington, D.C.-based Siemens Corp., a global company with energy management and building technology divisions, was named as the financier and energy service company to complete the work. Siemens declined to comment because the contract is not finalized.

The pending agreement between CPD and Siemens calls for CPD to commit to paying up to $125,000 of the audit and financing costs if the district opts to not move forward with the upgrades, according to the CPD and CIT agreement.

CPD did not respond to several requests for comment.