Sometime this spring, a gaping hole will appear in the top floor of the PNC Building where a row of windows now looks 300 feet down on Cascade Plaza.

From the corner of Main and Bowery streets, a crane 10 feet taller than the building — the second tallest in Akron — will swing over and grab a 25,000-pound hunk of machinery. It hasn’t moved since the skyscraper went up in 1968. But it’ll go all the way down to the ground.

First to be removed will be the old chiller. By summertime, it’ll be replaced with a more efficient unit that could ease the building’s dependence on natural gas. After that, workers will do the same for two equally enormous boilers, also relics from 1968. The pair of cylinders, a puzzle of curved and flat steel plates bolted and welded together, stretch out 24 feet and stand 10 feet high. After they’re removed, five leaner and greener units, each small enough to send up the maintenance elevator, will kick on before next winter.

The $8.5 million project, which also includes new lighting and other energy efficiency upgrades, is the first of its kind for the way it will be funded.

The Development Finance Authority (DFA) of Summit County, formerly known as the Summit County Port Authority, will issue bonds with the blessing of state law and approval from locally elected leaders.

The bond sales, which will cover the project, will then be repaid over the next 18 years at an average rate of about $477,000 annually attached to the skyscraper’s property tax bill.

It’s called property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing, and Ohio is one of 28 states to allow it. City and county officials worked with DFA to bring it to Summit County last year.

Win for everyone

This first PACE-financed project in Summit County is being touted by government officials and private business leaders as a win for everyone: the building owners, the tenants, the city (which has no financial responsibility), even the environment.

Upon completion next year, building manager Kathy Cunningham said energy usage will drop 10 to 15 percent. That means a smaller carbon footprint and a lower utility bill. “Savings are always used and passed along to tenants,” Cunningham said. “To the extent that we make this building more efficient, obviously the tenants would benefit.”

And it’s those future energy savings that the building’s owners, Cascade Plaza Associates LLC, say will cover the semi-annual increase in their property tax bill. Even so, no private lenders would cover the renovations on the iconic Akron building, which bears the name of a national bank.

Christopher J. Burnham, the president of DFA, said national companies like Greenworks, which specializes in exactly the type of financing that makes this project possible, wouldn’t lend the money. So DFA, whose board includes CEOs from some of Akron’s largest businesses and a couple of its civic-minded nonprofits, will be issuing bonds just as local, state and federal governments do when financing costly infrastructure projects.

Project green light

Akron City and Summit County Councils approved the special funding arrangement this past week. Once the bonds are sold and the money becomes available, the project is a go.

Already, bids are going out for the work and engineers are contemplating the best ways to remove the top-floor boilers and chiller and replace most of the lighting. The work will likely take place at night.

Overseeing the entire project is Plug Smart, an energy services company in Columbus, which Cascade Plaza Associates had hired to make similar cost-cutting upgrades to another property it owns.

Craig Burkett, chief engineer for the PNC Building, has one of the highest offices in Akron. His desk sits on the 23rd floor in the maintenance section of the building, where blue-collar workers behind the scenes keep the heat and air running and the lights on.

Burkett has spent the bulk of his career, 35 years in all, inside the nearly 50-year-old PNC Building. Cascade Plaza Associates bought the skyscraper in 1999, almost immediately investing $8 million in the landmark structure.

As the chiller and boilers have aged with Burkett, the engineer has found the cost of repairing, maintaining and buying replacement parts has gone up.

The old-school chiller, for example, runs on lithium bromine pumped by steam through 18,056 individual copper tubes, he explained.

The unit that will replace it will run on greener and cheaper electricity, and more efficient motors. “So the gas [use and bill] will go way down,” Burkett said from his office, surrounded by mechanical dinosaurs, 300 feet above the city streets.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.