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Geothermal Water Keeps School Warm

March 3, 2006, 5:26 PM by Andy Harvey

When sub-zero temperatures hit South Dakota...the cost of heating always seems to sky rocket. But one school in the central part of the state never gets a heating bill. The Midland school district relies on Mother Nature to heat it's classrooms.

With the cost to heat buildings climbing, South Dakota school districts are having to pinch pennies to pay the bills. But a system put in place more than 30 years ago in Midland keeps heating costs low.

Principal Denise Fox said, "We heat our building using a geothermal well."

Back in 1969, the town of Midland decided to harness the earth's energy by drilling a well to tap into a hot underground water source.

School Maintenance Mikel Williamson said, "And the well is about 3,300 feet deep. And that's pretty deep. It's part of the Yellowstone aquifer."

It's the water from the aquifer that keeps the buildings warm.

Williamson said, "There's a thermometer right down here. The temperature coming into the building right now, the temperature of the water is reading 150 degrees. It gets pumped through the six inch line and it goes all the way out throughout the building to each individual classroom"

Each classroom has a radiated heater hooked up to the geothermal water pipes; the hot water flows through the pipes to each of the 27 heaters.

Williamson said, "The heat from that water just heats up and then it's got the fans that turn on and off with the thermostat settings and it just blows in the warm air into the building."

It's air that keeps students comfortably warm. School workers say they rarely have heating issues.

Williamson said, "Basically, the maintenance I do here is I grease the pumps every three months and that's really about all you have to do to them."

Educators say you would never know something as simple as hot water heats the building.

Fox said, "It's always nice and comfortable here, so as far as a difference I haven't noticed that. In fact, when I signed on here I thought great. I won't have to worry about broiler problems in the school."

The building also gets hot water for cooking and drinking from the well, after it's been filtered. This efficient way of heating has been paying off for years.

Fox said, "Here at Midland we have two buildings for our school district. And I would say our utilities run about $10,000.00 a year and that's all utilities. That would be phone, light, electrical."

In a time when funding issues are taking center stage at South Dakota school districts, the Midland district has one less big bill to worry about.

Fox said, "I tell people that we heat this way and again it's a funding issue right now. It's been discussed during legislation how are we going to afford to heat the schools. So I say hey, come to Midland. We have a nice way to heat."

All thanks to energy deep underground. The school isn't the only building that uses geothermal water for heat. Other buildings in town, like the fire hall and city library, are hooked up to the well for heat and water.

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