County Commission approves solar panel for roof of jail

Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday approved a plan to install a solar panel on the roof of the Douglas County Jail to help save on energy costs.

“It’s no secret I’m certainly interested in seeing the county moving forward with sustainability, even when it’s just in baby steps,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said. “I think it’s important to go forward with these baby steps.”

A 200-square-foot thermal solar panel system on the roof of the jail, 3601 E. 25th St., would likely cost the county $10,000 after applicable tax rebates.

The jail incurred $99,200 in natural gas costs in 2008, and the solar panel system would save an average of $1,230 a year and $18,750 in 15 years, projected Gabriel Engeland, a county administrative intern.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the county wanted to start with one renewable energy project like this to see how their projections come out.

He said if the projections on use and cost are in line, more recommendations for similar projects could come within a year.

The commission on Wednesday also:

• Approved a resolution and gave Thellman authorization to sign a purchase contract in coming days when it is complete for the former Oread Labs building in west Lawrence.

Under the proposal the city and county will spend $2.9 million to purchase the building near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. A portion of the building will house Lawrence-based drug development firm Crititech, which needs more space to expand.

The rest of the building will be used to try to attract promising biotechnology companies. Lease payments will cover much of the cost of the bonds, but the city and county have agreed to equally cover any shortfall.

• Agreed to waive the formal bidding process allowing Douglas County District Court to authorize state contractor Mission Electronics to install video equipment and technology in District Judge Peggy Kittel’s courtroom for $42,091.

In 2007, two district courtrooms received the equipment, and court officials eventually want all courtrooms to have this equipment, meant to make it easier to display evidence in the court.

While the state’s judicial branch has warned about mandatory furloughs next year because of a budget shortfall, Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild said the state would require all courts across the state to be closed a certain number of days, so it wouldn’t matter if Douglas County put off this equipment purchase now.