Contract negotiations on lighting upgrades throughout the Union R-XI district are set to begin after the school board agreed the upgrades are becoming a necessity.

At the September R-XI board meeting, members voted unanimously to move forward with a major overhaul to lighting throughout the district.

While in its early stages, Union’s energy savings partner, Control Technology Solutions (CTS), estimated the project cost to be about $1.3 million.

It would cover lighting at Clark-Vitt, Beaufort and Central elementary schools, Union Middle School, lighting throughout the high school and HVAC temperature controls.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold said that he recognizes that the project is expensive, “but we have to take care of our learning environments.”

Assistant Superintendent Mike Mabe said that estimate could be adjusted when the contract is finalized.

Upgrades are estimated to save the district up to $113,450 each year on utility bills, according to CTS’s report. Savings come through new lighting and technology like occupancy sensors.

“The use of occupancy sensors will turn lights off when the areas are not occupied, thus reducing burn hours and ultimately the energy utility costs to the district,” the report read.

Currently, according to CTS’s data loggers that tracked the actual run hours for lights in the gym, cafeteria and common areas, most lights were on between 12 to 18 hours a day in some areas, with different run times each day.

Occupancy sensors, one of the major parts of the project, will turn lights off when those areas are not occupied, reducing the hours they are on and saving on utility costs.

CTS’s proposal also includes upgrading the lighting in the high school gym, cafeteria and main lobby areas to LED fixtures; introducing wireless controls to provide dimming and scene control in those spaces and implementing lighting control systems that will control and configure different scenes, monitor energy use and provide system alerts.

A CTS representative at the meeting said in all, the project would cut down the time the school’s maintenance workers spend replacing and trying to maintain the lights, many of which are nearing the end of their projected life spans.

That’s partly because of the extended life expectancy on the type of LED lights CTS proposes the district purchase, they noted.

Weinhold said cutting costs on energy at the existing schools is an important step towards solving the district’s lingering facility issues. At a facility meeting earlier in the month, Weinhold said cutting operational costs will be important if a new elementary school is built.

“We have to start looking and continue looking at our existing buildings,” Weinhold said. “We have lighting issues and HVAC control issues throughout the district.”