By Valerie Caviglia
While school corporations across the country continue to struggle with shrinking budgets, some have started to reap the benefits of cost-saving initiatives implemented to make district spending more efficient.
Northwest Allen County Schools is not only seeing benefits of its own, it was awarded for one of its initiatives at a recent school board meeting. The district was recognized as an Energy Star Leader by the federal Energy Star program, an honor bestowed only upon the country’s most energy efficient schools.
Actions taken by NACS to reduce its energy spending has not only made them appear more environmentally adept, it’s saving jobs.
Bill Mallers, Northwest Allen County Schools business manager, said NACS partnered with Dallas-based Energy Education, who helped them implement a program to combat rising energy and utility costs in January 2010. With the help of consultants, NACS Energy Manager Dave Hey works with maintenance and other staff at their facilities to ensure best practices are used to reduce energy use. Consultants visit the district two to three times each month to walk the grounds and point out any opportunities for energy savings.
“What we were doing was getting our heating and air systems on occupancy programming or scheduling,” Mallers said. “We worked with Energy Education engineers to maximize those types of things. That’s how the program really kicked off, was to look at our HVAC systems. From there, it was a total package on how we were using our energy and how we could eliminate or reduce the costs associated with that.”
Mallers said the purpose of occupancy programming is to shut down HVAC systems in buildings like Carroll High School. The 600,000-square-foot facility was built to accommodate 2,800-3,000 occupants. To keep the HVAC system running when it was unoccupied or occupied by only a few people at one time was inefficient and costing the district valuable savings. “We don’t need a whole building to be heated or cooled when there is just one person there,” he said.
“Electricity, heating and cooling, that’s like your biggest expense,” Hey said. “Before, nobody really paid attention to how long the air conditioning was running. Now, this building doesn’t come alive until 20 or 30 minutes before the kids get here. Then we shut it off half an hour before they leave.”
Another usage adjustment for the district came in programming its interior and exterior lighting systems.
“We didn’t have a good shut-down schedule that involved lighting, so that was a big component,” he said, adding that staff members in the district’s food service department were also contributing to energy cost savings by preheating ovens at the appropriate time and following proper equipment use guidelines.
“Any time we’re talking about energy usage, we’re talking about the behaviors of our staff, right down to extracurricular (activities). They may use a large gym and turn on an abundance of light, but only have a meeting of 20 people. We would want them to use a smaller classroom for that,” Mallers said. “That’s why the program is so valuable. It keeps it at the forefront. Part of it is just awareness and it comes down to the staff usage of those buildings.”
“You still need reminders. That’s what I’m for,” Hey said as he watched one of the head custodians shut a propped-open classroom door during a walk-through tour of Carroll High School. “See, there’s a good example. It’s about behaviors — making everyone cognitive of, ‘Do I need these lights on? Did I turn the computers, monitors, printers and copiers off at the end of the day?’”
While everyone has played a role in making the program successful, Hey gave most of the credit to the district’s custodial staff.
“These guys need more a pat on the back than anybody, really,” Hey said. “When you need stuff done in the buildings, they’re the go-to people.”
With the near $2 million in savings the district has accrued during the first half of its four-year contract with Energy Education, Mallers said the district is not only fulfilling its responsibility to the environment, but also to students and staff.
“The biggest thing we’ve been able to do is maintain educational programs and the staffing that goes along with it,” he said. “In 2009-10, we dealt with some major budget cuts and this has allowed us to maintain some of our educational programs without going further into cuts. We’ve been able to maintain staffing.”