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Clifton Ready To Go Digital?

Town Council considers HVAC changes, Verizon proposals.

After months of electricity bills costing the Town of Clifton several thousand dollars, the Town Council on Tuesday heard a proposal to install electric monitoring systems to reduce costs.

Joe Turner, a representative from Coastal Building Automation of Gaithersburg, Md., told the seven-member council that most buildings where the system is installed can see their electricity bills reduced by at least 10 percent.

"I reviewed this job site several years ago and the biggest problem here is that your air conditioning system is really over-sized," Turner said.

Turner suggested the council consider switching to a system that would enlist the help of a carbon monoxide detector, which would cause outside air ducts to open when CO2 levels rise, thereby increasing the amount of fresh, cool air in the building.

"By using that, it leaves the outside dampers closed until you need to open them to bring down the C02 levels and the temperature," Turner said.

Councilmember Pat Layden asked Turner how much the council could expect to save on their electricity bills for the town hall, which have been as high as $6,000 a month recently.

"For an office building with an electrical control, they can save up to 10 percent," said Turner. "I expect it to be a whole lot more here," he said, hinting that he wouldn't be surprised if the bills were cut in half.

FOR THE INITIAL $10,000 installation fee, Turner and his company would install the electrical system, which would be monitored by microchips installed in the building that would automatically control the heat in the room by pre-set dates or temperature benchmarks. After the first year, a small monthly fee, perhaps around $20, would be charged to the council.

After agreeing to a clause stipulating that if the Town Council is not happy with the performance of the electronic system after six months, the system would be removed and their money fully refunded, Mayor Tom Peterson and the council agreed to move forward with the proposal.

Councilmember Chuck Rusnack asked if the council had to put the proposal out to bid, but fellow Councilmember Wayne Nickum explained that in municipalities of less than 3,500 people, it is not required.

Additionally, the Town Council heard another proposal from Verizon, which is looking to extend fiber optic DSL and video services within the town.

"We're hoping to upgrade the existing telecommunication network," said Doug Brammer, area manager for external affairs for Verizon. By bringing in a new fiber optic system, Brammer said Verizon hopes to provide "enhanced reliability, greater speeds and capabilities for businesses and residences."

If the Town of Clifton approves the proposal, Verizon would bring in a fiber optic system that would go past every home in the town, which would allow for individual hook-ups to each home or business, should the customer choose to subscribe to their service, Brammer said.

"This kind of network, in Northern Virginia especially, it facilitates teleworking and telecommuting in a way never seen before," Brammer said. "That means fewer cars on the road and increased productivity because people aren't spending so much time in traffic."

VERIZON ALSO brought a separate but associated offer to the meeting Tuesday night, which would allow the company to provide what it termed as "video service," essentially, the fiber optic equivalent of cable television.

Providing this service would require a separate franchise agreement, Brammer explained. Verizon has similar agreements with the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and the Town of Herndon.

When Councilmember Lane Johnston asked if cell phone service would be included in the enhanced services, Brammer admitted that he realized Clifton didn't have Verizon cell service "about three years ago, when I tried to make a call but there wasn't a signal."

The biggest question posed by the council, from Vice Mayor Michael Anton, was whether Verizon would be able to underground the fiber optic system or if they would be using the existing utility poles on the west side of Main Street.

"If the municipality pays us to put the lines underground, we'll do that," Brammer said. "In those areas where the utilities are above ground, we will typically use the above ground facilities. If the municipality already has the facilities underground, we will underground our fiber optics without any additional charge."

Brammer said that if the council approved the two independent proposals, work could being within the next few months and could be completed within six months, weather permitting.

Anton, Nickum and Clifton resident Steve Effros agreed to be on a committee to work with Verizon to determine the feasibility of the services in Clifton.