In winter, the two massive boilers that heat the Regional Justice Center are fired up with natural gas, keeping water hot as it flows through the courthouse heating system.
The boilers also are running and heating water even when it’s summer in sunny Las Vegas.
It’s another shortcoming of the Regional Justice Center, a 19-story, 710,000-square-foot building that has been plagued with a variety of problems during construction and after its 2005 opening at 200 Lewis Ave. in downtown Las Vegas.
A county audit of energy usage and utility costs found that the center has an inefficient heating system, with boilers that heat water year-round, regardless of whether the weather is chilly or broiling. The boiler heats water at 160 to 200 degrees.
The design flaw could end up costing Clark County up to $500,000.
“Since all the water in the two boilers must be heated year round to a set temperature, natural gas usage is significantly higher in the spring, summer and fall months than is necessary with the system constantly cycling,” the auditor wrote. “The boilers are on all year round as if the building needed to be heated year round.”
That audit found that the boiler system wasn’t designed to take into account periods of lower demand. The boiler also provides hot water for uses besides heating, such as hot water in restrooms. The boiler system cannot be adjusted, however, to heat less water for that purpose when the weather warms.
The county is now exploring options that are more efficient, said Jerry Stueve, director of the county’s Department of Real Property Management.
“First of all, we have to do an estimate and figure out how much we think it’s going to cost,” he said.
The county could end up putting in a three-phase boiler system that can adjust its heating based on the needs of the building, according to Stueve’s written response to the audit’s finding.
Or it could add a summer boiler to use for hot water in restrooms, which would allow the existing system to shut down in warmer months, he said.
The preliminary price for adding a summertime boiler is up to $500,000.
It’s also possible county officials could do nothing to change the system, depending on whether funding is available.
There is no time frame yet for when a new system could be in place. But any final decision, after getting input from staff and a consultant, would be at least several months away. The county will have a consultant to help with the planning, Stueve said.
It’s also unknown at this point how much the change would save in utility costs. The county’s gas bill for an 11-month period amounted to $180,010 at the Regional Justice Center, audit records show.
County officials were unable to provide documentation for the boiler and its specifications, such as how long the equipment’s lifetime would be for Clark County.
Most boilers, even those that die young, have lifespans that are longer than the Regional Justice Center’s boiler, according to an expert in boiler systems.
In general, a new commercial boiler has a lifetime of 20 to 40 years before it needs to be replaced, said Rick Smith, a professional engineer from Ohio who provides expert court testimony and consulting about large-scale boiler issues. The lifespan of a boiler also depends on how well-maintained it is, Smith said.
County officials acknowledge that replacing the boiler would be earlier than usual but also note the troubled building’s history.
“It’s not normal we would have to replace a boiler this quickly,” Stueve said. “However, you have to remember how the RJC was built. It was built under a contentious contractor-owner relationship, and not everything was built the way it should have.”
The county and the general contractor building the Regional Justice Center, AF Construction, went to court over their differences. The building’s other defects that the county found fault with included uneven, sloping floors and leaky windows, according to Review-Journal archives.
Lawsuits over boilers usually aren’t centered on efficiency, Smith said.
“Mostly, it’s over a boiler that’s exploded or failed and hurt someone,” Smith said.
And that, at least, hasn’t happened with this boiler.
The Regional Justice Center has had plenty of other problems, though.
In recent months, the secured double doors on the south interior, which provide access to judges’ chambers, have had a broken alarm system that required security changes.
The county in 2010 spent $60,000 to fix blind spots in the security camera system by installing nine exterior cameras.
The Regional Justice Center contains Las Vegas Justice Court, District Court, Municipal Court, the Nevada Supreme Court and offices of the district attorney and the city attorney.
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.