Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 will launch a $3.2 million project next month to upgrade mechanical systems and replace windows at both school buildings, pending approval of a contract for the work by its board of education next month.

The project will be financed through an energy performance contract in which the district will make annual payments over 10 years to Siemens, the engineering firm chosen to lead the effort. Siemens was one of two companies responding to a request for proposals from the district last fall. Siemens, which also conducted an energy audit of the district last fall in advance of the RFP, was the lower of the two estimates.

Including interest, the improvements will cost the district about $3.9 million at the end of the 10-year period, said Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski.

The arrangement allows the district to avoid a referendum to raise the money for the project, while providing a method of financing whose cost would be similar to issuing bonds.

“We’ll absorb the payments over 10 years in our operations and maintenance fund,” said Kuzniewski. “There’s room without a doubt to fund that.”

An energy performance contract is a method of financing where savings resulting from improved energy efficiency pay the cost of making the improvements over a set period of time.

While Siemens said that the district will see a reduction in its energy bills from $12,000 to $15,000 annually, other factors are included in the performance contract equation.

For example, Kuzniewski said, about half of the 1930s-era heating units, called univents, in each classroom at S.E. Gross Middle School don’t function at all and none of the remainder functions equally. The heat in each classroom can’t be controlled individually and no fresh air is circulated through the univents.

“If the system were running at full capacity, our bills would probably be twice as high,” Kuzniewski said.

Siemens has proposed replacing all the univents at both schools, replacing two aging steam boilers at Brook Park School and adding a second boiler for the new addition at Brook Park, which was built with just one.

The school board also agreed to replace two air handlers above the S.E. Gross School auditorium and equip them for connection to an air-conditioning system for the auditorium if that is deemed desirable in the future.

The old windows at both schools will also be replaced with double-pane, energy-efficient ones that will let in more light and keep warm air from escaping during winter. Many of the old windows can’t be opened or closed completely.

Finally, all of the older exterior doors at both Brook Park and S.E. Gross schools will be replaced.

The school board is expected to approve a contract with Siemens on Feb. 10. The next week, Kuzniewski said he’d like work to begin on replacing the exterior doors. Work replacing the boilers and univents could begin during spring break, while window replacement would take place throughout the summer.

The goal, Kuzniewski said, is to have all of the improvements complete by the start of the 2011-12 school year in August.

While the district has about $1.2 million in its operations and maintenance fund, Kuzniewski said the district will also seek grants to help pay for the project.

District 95 in 2009 was promised $90,000 in the state of Illinois capital projects bill. That money, which will be reimbursed to the district after completion of a project, is eyed for the door replacement portion of the plan, so the district can get the money from the state during the current school year.

The district also plans on applying for two federal grants. One is a $90,000 grant for energy-related projects in old school buildings. The other is a $250,000 grant (which must be matched dollar-for-dollar by the district). If the district gets all three grants that could give them almost $430,000 toward the total cost of the project.