Garfield Re-2 schools energized over savings

Photos by Dennis Webb—Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services for the Garfield Re-2 School District, displays the plug of an overhead projector, one of numerous devices the district has unplugged over the summer at Coal Ridge High School to reduce “vampire” energy consumption that can occur even when the devices are off. BELOW: Craig Jay, director of facilities for the Garfield Re-2 School District, points to a boiler system at Coal Ridge High School that the district was able to make more efficient by reducing the temperature of return fluid to design specifications so it condenses properly. Coal Ridge High School reduced its energy use by more than 10 percent for the first six months of the past school year.

At a time when every dollar seemingly counts more than ever, the Garfield Re-2 School District is happily counting the savings from a program to reduce energy usage.

Across the district’s 10 schools, from New Castle to Rifle, the program cut energy spending by $168,000 over the first three-quarters of the past school year. With Colorado school funding suffering, that’s a savings that can mean saved jobs and more money for education.

“That $168,000, that’s three teachers,” said Craig Jay, the district’s director of facilities.

The efforts are producing a cultural change regarding energy savings not just within the district, but within area communities, as when municipalities and businesses joined schools in May for an hourlong “Operation Shutdown” in which participants cut energy usage to a minimal level.

That project was in support of the ongoing participation by Coal Ridge High School in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Battle of the Building competition. In the competition, operators of 245 buildings in school, office, retail and other categories are seeing how much they can reduce their energy use. In the first six months, Coal Ridge achieved a 10.5 percent reduction.

Its efforts to date led Coal Ridge to be profiled on the competition website, partly for its community outreach, which also includes creating a website, http://www.re2energycenter .com/default.asp? PageID=200, offering other schools help in saving energy. It also received coverage on a New York Times blog about the competition.

The district’s board has been rewarding efforts at each school by letting it keep a part of any savings to make up for things it has had to reduce or eliminate due to state funding cuts.

In May 2010, the district was able to use a grant to install meters at four schools to measure energy use at 15-minute intervals. It since has placed them in all of the schools. They allow for detection of spikes and day-long trends in energy use, plus discovery of problems such as gym lights that stayed on all night because motion detectors failed to work right.

Grand Junction-based consulting firm New Energy Technology, or NET, helped the district evaluate energy usage and make changes. Some adjustments included installing more efficient lighting, reducing “vampire” energy use by unplugging unused devices such as computers and overhead projectors during the summer and holidays, installing room-occupancy sensors to turn lights on and off, adjusting boilers to optimize their use, and having janitors clean a school section by section as a group, rather than spreading out and requiring more lighting.

At Coal Ridge, student council members who dressed up as “Green Ninjas” went around the school turning off unneeded lights and boosting awareness about reducing wasted energy.

“The biggest thing we do is model simple, day-to-day things that can be done,” said social studies teacher Jennifer Morandi, who teaches the student council in a leadership class. “… When cumulatively put together, it does make a difference.”


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