Park Districts in Illinois Now Can Improve Their Facilities Without Spending A Cent

Nearly 350 park districts, sprinkled in towns and cities across Illinois, are comprised of thousands of acres and hundreds of buildings, all bustling daily with children, sports leagues, games and activities. These park districts are the true heart of their communities.

But not all are running smoothly.

Some baseball fields don’t have lights, or if they do, they are broken, making it difficult to safely play a game, or impossible to schedule all the games needed because they can’t play in the dark. Pools are leaking, costing the district thousands in water each month, or have broken pumps, which causes bacteria to grow or the water to be too cold for residents to swim. Boilers are old and take too much time to maintain, making it cold in the winter, and taking up all the maintenance crew’s time.

“These buildings and fields get a lot of wear and tear and cost a lot to upkeep,” said Elan Kapadia, an energy optimization expert and member of the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD). “Often park districts don’t have the budget or staff resources to make capital improvements.”

But Kapadia said there is a fix: the Illinois Local Government Energy Conservation Act.

The IL Energy Conservation Act, as it is called for short, allows park districts to make building and energy system improvements or install solar PV systems without expending capital. There are several special districts, like park districts, in each town. Some could be the library district or even a fire district. But what sets a park districts apart is that the park district board is the only special district in the state allowed to use the IL Energy Conservation Act, said Kapadia.

“Through the IL Energy Conservation Act, park districts can make the necessary improvements to their buildings by using the guaranteed energy savings that result from the project to pay for the upgrades. It’s really the perfect opportunity for these park districts to be true stewards of their community and improve public spaces without raising taxes and spending capital,” Kapadia said.

Some of the energy efficiency upgrades that park districts can undertake include new HVAC equipment, interior and exterior LED lighting, solar PV, water conservation and irrigation, sports lighting, building automation systems, and building envelope measures.

A park district that is on the fence about moving forward with a large project could begin with retro-commissioning their existing systems. This means a team of energy experts conduct a building energy audit and then get everything working the way it was designed and intended.

“Retro-commissioning is a good bang for your buck and an easy way to make simple fixes to achieve energy savings,” Kapadia said. “During this process, additional energy savings opportunities are identified which can be rolled into a larger capital improvement plan to be completed in phases over a number of years.”

Once the term of the project is over, the district can then spend that money on new facilities, better equipment or even additional personnel. In the meantime, the maintenance crew isn’t tied up fixing failing systems.

Park District Boards should be on the lookout for news about the state’s Clean Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect June 1. Solar and wind projects will be subsidized by the state five times more than they are currently and the budget for energy efficiency projects is doubling.

More information is expected to be available in June.

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