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A contract to retrofit the lighting in Bibb County schools drew some fire from one board member Thursday night.

The school board approved the contract with Wipro EcoEnergy, a firm that evaluated energy usage in each of the schools, and promised to cut that usage significantly over time.

Wipro plans to make the district's HVAC and information technology systems more energy efficient, but the major part of the work will beretrofitting and optimizing the lighting.

The district will have to pay $6,104,746 for the entire project, including $3,935,836 to install the efficient lights and other improvements, $748,707 in interest, and $1,420,203 to be paid to the firm over 10 years.

Grant Capital Management will finance the project. Van Eaton, Vice President of Grant Capital Management, said the project will be budget neutral.

According to Sridhar Marupudi, Wirpo's director of energy and sustainability, each year after the improvements, the district will be paying about $800,000 less in utilities-- $8,364,719 over 9 years. He says the cost of the project would beevened outby those savings, and over time the district would realize more than $2 million in net savings.

"I thought it was a golden opportunity," said board member Tom Hudson. "In light of the cuts from the state of Georgia, and the federal government, we're gonna have to make sure we're creative in finding ways to save money."

Hudson was one of 4 votes to approve the contract. Dr. Wanda West, Susan Sipe, and Lynn Farmer were absent. Gary Bechtel was the sole dissenting vote.

"The financing piece of this has a lot of questions," said Bechtel. "I don't think it's in the best interest of the district to do this particular project."

Bechtel fired questions at the Wipro representatives and the District's lawyers. He raised concerns about the legality of choosing Wipro, a company that is not one of the energy providers approved by the Georgia Energy Finance Authority. Beyond that, Bechtel says the actual project is unnecessary.

"We have a SPLOST fund that should be used for capital improvements, if they're necessary," said Bechtel. "I honestly do not think these are necessary. I think we're going out on a limb and doing induction lighting in areas we do not need to do induction lighting, all for the sole purpose of improved cash flow for some of the foolishness that is in this strategic plan."

In a press release in September, the district said it planned to use the energy savings to pay for some technology improvements.

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