Recent visitors to the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center have noticed the four large, silver cylinders standing between the entrance into the Historic Holmes Theatre and the center's north side parking lot.

Though they may look like miniature grain silos, each cylinder is embossed with the words "Ice Bank" - an obvious clue to what lies inside. The tanks do, in fact, contain ice, and these "chiller tanks" are the basis of the cooler half of the center's new heating and cooling system.

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Cooler in both appearance and function.

"The cooling side is a hybrid," said Stu Omberg, the center's CEO. "During off-peak hours, the chillers cool the ice tanks to a degree that they actually make ice. During the day, the chillers are not running. There's a glycol coil inside each ice tank, and the glycol runs through the tanks via a pump, cooling the glycol to 40 degrees."

That cold glycol is then pumped into the center's air handlers, which in turn blow air across the ice-cold coils, thus cooling the air before it is disbursed out into each room.

"We are the only place in town that uses a chiller system with ice banks," Omberg said.

Conversely, heated air is disbursed via a more conventional boiler system; what brings this half of the HVAC system solidly into the 21st century is that the temperature in each room of the building can be set individually, through an automated network that Omberg can access via his office computer (though it is not the only access point).

"I can take control of the system from my office and set the temperature levels for each room," he said, adding that when the rooms are not in use, the controls are set accordingly, and the levels can even be set on a timer, to turn on and off when there is no staff on duty.

Installed by Trane U.S. Inc. over the course of the past year, the new HVAC system is designed to serve not only the community center and adjacent theater, but also the new Becker County Museum building when it is attached onto the theater.

"We paid for the upsizing of the chiller project, and will also pay for bringing the piping over to the museum when it's finished," Omberg said, noting that the boiler system was already built large enough to accommodate the 30,000 square feet of added space that the museum will bring with it.

"We also totally upgraded all of our lighting to LED," Omberg added.

Altogether, the HVAC system upgrade cost $1.8 million - but the center will make back that money in energy and maintenance savings over the course of the next 15 years ... guaranteed.

"It really is guaranteed," Omberg said, noting that Trane is a NAESCO-accredited energy services company, which means that the projects they install must be "budget neutral" over the life of the project.

"The life of our project is 15 years, which means over those 15 years we will have saved $1.8 million in energy and maintenance costs," he said. "If we don't achieve the annual energy savings they predict, they will write us a check for the difference."

Though there are still a few bells and whistles left to install, the project is "essentially complete," Omberg said - at least until construction of the new museum begins.

Museum director Becky Mitchell says they are eyeing a mid-summer 2020 groundbreaking date, with construction slated for completion in 2021 - which is the sesquicentennial of both the founding of Detroit Lakes and the organization of Becker County.