Lafayette weighs HVAC services

School Board  to decide whether to hire contractor

The Lafayette Parish School Board will decide next month whether to contract out repairs and preventive maintenance of its heating, venting and air conditioning equipment.

Chief financial officer Billy Guidry estimated that privatizing maintenance would save the school system about $16,000 annually, but Superintendent Pat Cooper told board members last week the deal is being driven by service rather than cost savings.

“The whole idea behind this is we’ll get better service,” Cooper told board members. “Some of the people with us can’t service the bigger equipment.”

A school district committee recommended Bernhard Mechanical for a five-year contract for the job after reviewing proposals. The company proposed a total $10 million contract with annual costs of about $2 million. The company’s contract also includes a provision that any annual savings would be split equally between the company and school system.

The company’s proposal wasn’t the lowest — but the committee considered Bernhard’s prior experience with the school system in its decision, district planning and facilities supervisor Kyle Bordelon told board members.

Though the district has a small HVAC department, it must contract out service on larger pieces of equipment, such as chillers that cool an entire school, Bordelon said Friday.

“Our guys don’t have the range of knowledge, so we do have to call in contractors and have people who specialize in repairing some of these pieces,” he said.

Two other companies submitted proposals: Star Services at $13 million and Xcel A/C Services at about $8.7 million.

Funding to start the contracted services is available in this year’s budget.

However, $533,000 will be required annually for subsequent years — money that Guidry said is available in the district’s capital improvement fund. He said the district typically spends between $545,000 to $550,000 annually for the replacement of HVAC equipment, which is budgeted in the capital improvement fund each year.

Guidry told board members that the estimated $533,000 cost under a privatized contract was less than the range of what the school system already has been spending annually to maintain heating and air conditioning equipment.

But some board members questioned the expense.

Representatives from Bernhard told board members that the contract provision to split the cost savings is an incentive for the company to provide efficient service.

“The idea or the structure behind such a contract is such that we manage our people more efficiently and we are accountable for the work for the service,” Rebecca Bernhard, the company’s director of sales and marketing, said after the meeting.

The company is also taking on a financial risk, Bernhard told board members.

“You have millions and millions of equipment on your property… It’s at greater risk to us in case anything fails,” she told board members.

Board member Tehmi Chassion said he supports cost-savings measures, but during the board meeting questioned the impact of the privatization on school system employees.

At least six people are employed in the HVAC department. Cooper said efforts would be made to transfer the employees to open positions. Bernhard has also agreed to interview the employees for open positions with their company.