Although it's sometimes still referred to as the "new courthouse," since it replaced a historic structure, the current Harvey County Courthouse is now 50 years old, and staff say the need for upgrades is inevitable.

360 Energy Engineers, a consulting group based in Lawrence, recently evaluated county facilities and recommended ways the county could save on energy costs by making courthouse systems more efficient.

"I think they did a very thorough job of looking at this building and the systems that can and should be addressed due to age," said John Waltner, county administrator. "We do know that something absolutely needs to be done concerning these systems."

The audit was conducted this spring and flagged several areas that need to be addressed, including the county's HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system; lighting; and plumbing.

The courthouse still has its original heating and cooling system, though a new boiler was installed downstairs in the courthouse in 2002. Waltner said the controls for the heating/cooling system were state of the art at the time, but the system now has become outdated. It's difficult to find replacement parts, and maintenance staff have to keep patching the system together.

"It's kept some things going long beyond their useful life," Waltner said. "... Some of these systems could fail."

Also, as departments have moved to new offices and new walls have been constructed, the air flow in the courthouse has been disrupted, and this has made the heating and cooling system less effective than when it was originally designed.

The windows in the building are old and difficult to open and are not energy efficient. Waltner said he can see daylight through many of the seals around the windows, and sometimes moisture leaks inside the building.

The audit revealed other issues with the nearby detention center. With the county regularly housing 100+ inmates a day, water usage has become a significant expense for the county.

According to the audit, more efficient technology could result in utility savings over time. For example, the county could cut back on water usage at the detention center by using more efficient showers, toilets and sinks that restrict the flow of water.

So far, the county has merely conducted research on potential renovations and has not committed to any projects.

"This is preliminary," Anthony Swartzendruber, assistant administrator and finance director for the county, said of the audit.

If the county decided to enter into a contract with a company, the company would then perform a more detailed audit and would request bids on the county's behalf to find the most competitive rate, Swartzendruber said.

The county could decide to make all the recommended changes or decide to work on a few projects at a time. A cost estimate for the renovations is not yet available.

"This is just an idea at this point, we haven't committed to anything," Waltner said. "... There are various ways this could be approached."