Commission looks at jail's hot water system

Posted 8/22/18

The Walker County Commission on Monday gave Chairman Jerry Bishop permission to give final approval over the possible installation of a new water tank system at the Walker County Jail, which could …

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Commission looks at jail's hot water system


The Walker County Commission on Monday gave Chairman Jerry Bishop permission to give final approval over the possible installation of a new water tank system at the Walker County Jail, which could cost as much as $110,000. 

However, the new tank being discussed would replace a leaking original tank and could pay for itself in three to four years due to efficiency, County Engineer Mike Short told the commission.

"As you know, the jail's hot water system is made up of three boilers and two storage tanks," Short said. "One of the storage tanks has developed a leak, to the extent it has had to come out of service." 

The equipment at issue was installed when the jail was built, he said. 

In the past, one of the boilers has been taken out as well. "So we're operating on one large boiler, one small boiler and a holding tank that is leaking. So with all that taking place, I recommend we declare a state of emergency," as well as get repairs and opinions on repairs. 

Declaring an emergency only eliminates the formal gathering of bids, he said. Quotes will still be needed from more than one vendor to make a qualified decision. One price is in and another is still being waited on, he said, noting he contacted three vendors but that one apparently doesn't have the ability to do the work at the pace needed. He said the second price should come by the end of the week. 

"We're looking at spending somewhere between $85,000 and $110,000 to get this problem addressed," Short said. 

However, he said improved technology will allow for much more efficiency. "We would be able to recoup about half this money in the first three to four years in gas savings over the system we have today," Short said. 

While the county may get higher bids, he noted the county may get equipment that is 30 percent to 40 percent more efficient as well. He noted consultations had taken place with the county's attorneys and with attorneys from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

Officials said the issue involved hot water to the kitchen and the showers. District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt asked how many gallons in hot water was used at the jail. Short did not have figures but said it was greatly reduced from the past. Cut off values have been placed at the showers so that they are only turned on at specific times, as hot water was left running in the past. 

"That's not the case anymore," he said. "At one point in time, our water usage was $9,000 a month. I don't know how many gallons that equates to, but we've drastically reduced those numbers as well." 

The new tanks would be on-demand water tanks, Short said. 

"Right now we're keeping hot water 100 percent of the time in the tanks," he said. The boilers run and puts the hot water in the tanks, and then it circulates through the jail so that when you turn the hot water on 300 feet away, it doesn't use cold water. So there is a circulatory system so that the hot water may not be instantly on demand, but it is not a lot of waste of large amount of cold water to get to the hot water." 

District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said commissioners coming into office dealt with showers that ran "day in, day out." Commissioners came up with a solution to that, and noted prisoners only take showers on certain days. "That has reduced our water consumption drastically, perhaps by 25 percent. He noted the on-demand system will be cheaper than keeping hot water heated all the time in tanks. 

The current tanks are fiberglass tanks with metal lines coming into them, Short said. The proposed system has three 130-gallon on-demand thanks that would be rotated on a weekly basis by computer so a tank would not be worn out. 

"They only kick on as needed," he said, noting that figures from a gas company show that 40 percent of gas usage would likely be saved. 

District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt asked if anyone looked at a tankless system where cold water comes into the unit and heats the water before it comes out at the point of use. 

"That what this is," Short said, "but to get that much hot water going, you have to have an internal tank in there. It is not like a heater to a tank. It looks somewhat like a water heater in your house, but it is on demand. The water is not sitting there being heated all the time." 

Chairman Jerry Bishop said, "We've got one tank down and one sitting there to go down." He said the current system was not "built for future maintenance cost." Aderholt noted the technology for the new system was not available when the jail was built in 1998. 

Davis asked for figures covering cost savings. Short said it was likely cost "$50,000 to go back with exactly what we have," but Davis wanted to know figures like consumption and the gas bill, and the amount of reduction and the cost over the life of the system. Aderholt also noted it could still increase electrical costs, and eventually made a motion to carry the issue to the next meeting. 

Bishop said numbers are already in place. "I just don't want to see something happen over there in that jail when that other tank goes bad or the boiler quits," he said, noting the commission is going to spend much on the jail as a whole in time.

"If the numbers are what Mike says they are, I think we ought to approve it one way or another, and the differentials in the dollars will save us so much money that we will need to go with the modern technology." District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams said he agreed. 

Davis, noting Bishop and Short have been the main officials working on the situation, suggested giving the chairman the right to approve the matter. The commission approved the suggestion.