To increase energy efficiency, arts center would have to spend thousands

gsmith@islandpacket.comFebruary 20, 2013 

The cash-strapped Arts Center of Coastal Carolina would have to shell out thousands of dollars to make its Hilton Head Island building more energy efficient.

That's the result of a new energy audit performed by Palmetto Electric Cooperative on behalf of the center.

Arts center leaders are searching for ways to save money. The center has operated in the red for most, if not all, of its nearly 17-year existence when interest expense and depreciation is taken into account, according to its tax returns.

It is surviving the winter in large part because of a $346,000 advance in accommodations tax money from the Town of Hilton Head Island.

Arts center president and CEO Kathleen Bateson has said the town or some other entity should take over the building and the expense of operating and updating it.

But town council members have been hesitant to seriously consider such a proposal because it would put taxpayers on the hook for the money.

Instead, they are drafting a request for proposals for arts consulting services, said Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley. The consulting firm that gets the town contract would help the town, the arts center and other arts groups come up with a plan for long-term funding. That plan may or may not include more money from the town and the town buying the arts center building.

In the mean time, the center is looking for ways to save money, including cutting its $100,000 annual electric bill.

Nearly 70 percent of that bill is heating and cooling the 45,000-square-foot space, according to the audit.

"Although the facility is only about 17 years old, much of the design predates the latest energy conservation techniques," the audit reads.

For example, the HVAC control system lacks control capabilities needed to meet current cooling demand and also conserve energy, according to the audit.

And the center's energy cost per square foot is slightly higher than other public assembly facilities because it is totally electric-power based. Electric power is the only readily available energy source in the area, the audit says.

The center's need for high-wattage lighting tailored for performances, temperatures that make crowds comfortable during shows and a need to run the HVAC systems to prevent mold and mildew on stage curtains and other items means energy solutions are limited.

Audit recommendations include replacing emergency lighting, sconce bulbs and floodlights with energy-efficient lighting and upgrading the HVAC system with more energy-efficient parts and controls.

In total, the upgrades would cost nearly $12,000 for a annual savings of more than $7,000. That means the improvements would pay for themselves in less than two years.

Check back with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for updates and follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

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