JSD learns lesson in energy efficiency

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2010

By taking the initiative to become energy aware, the Juneau School District has not only saved more than $1.2 million, but also has schools earning the distinctive Energy Star award.

Four JSD schools were recognized recently for earning the Energy Star award - Juneau-Douglas High School, Floyd Dryden Middle School, Auke Bay Elementary and Glacier Valley Elementary. Gastineau Elementary and Harborview Elementary's are expected to achieve the designation next year.

"Through this achievement, our schools have demonstrated a strong commitment to environmental stewardship while also lowering our energy costs," said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich in a statement.

Joyce Kitka, community schools supervision and energy education specialist, said the district had to follow Environmental Protection Agency regulations and go through testing to qualify. It also had to make energy use changes around the schools in order to achieve the standards, which the district started doing three years ago. Also, in order for a school to be eligible, it must have at least three years of data on energy use.

The scores the schools receive are based upon energy consumption in heating and electricity, but also takes into consideration square footage and carbon dioxide.

Kitka said the goal is to heat the schools to 68 degrees. When students fill the buildings, temperatures should be around 71. She said since they started honing in on energy details, maintenance has set up heating timers. When the schools are unoccupied, temperatures are set to 55 and at a scheduled time the heaters kick on and warm the buildings up for when students arrive.

Lighting also has been changing in schools. Kitka said they discovered that some lights never went off - nor had the ability to. Switches have been installed for those lights. In other schools, some larger rooms have only had one switch. Sectioned lighting now exists in those spaces, so if a small section of a large room is being used, that more lights aren't on than necessary.

"The district is getting smarter," she said. "It's actually stemming to looking at things when we look at renos (renovations) on our buildings."

Heating has also changed from electricity to oil, which Kitka said has creating savings.

Those tweaks with heating, electricity and within other parts of the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning system have lead to the Energy Star award.

"We don't get any money for it," Kitka said. "We're just recognized for doing a good thing. Just because you're designated an Energy Star school this year, doesn't mean you will be designated this year."

The EPA uses a performance scale to determine energy efficiency. Buildings that score a 75 (of 100) or better are eligible. The JSD schools that received the award all scored in the 90s.

Kitka credited the maintenance staff for their efforts in making the schools energy efficient.

"It takes us all working together to truly achieve these high goals," said the district's lead HVAC mechanic Steve Bradner. "Participation from the teachers, staff and students - doing things like turning off lights - makes the real difference."

Now, Kitka said, the challenge is to change behaviors for further energy efficiency by getting staff and students to shut off lights and electronics that aren't needed.

"One of the goals is to not have anyone be uncomfortable, but meet the (energy standards)," she said. "Trying to find that balance is difficult. We have a budget and are trying to save as much energy as we can. A dollar saved on energy is a dollar more we can spend on education. It's certainly something I have learned a lot about in the last 3 years. We can always save more energy."

Mendenhall River is starting up a fifth-grade program called Watt Watchers, where students will pay attention to unnecessary lighting. Kitka said they also will learn about wattage, electricity and tie in math.

Another energy-saving tactic is happening over breaks, like the current winter break. Kitka said all schools were to unplug any non-essential electronics and close the blinds. Schools that have 100 percent compliance will receive $500 for supplies from the district.

Kitka said that even if electronics are off, they're still using some electricity. She said the district would rather put that money back into education than funding phantom electricity costs. Kitka said she hasn't done a walk-though check of all schools yet, but she knows that several will be rewarded.

As far as overall savings, in the first 30 months of implementing energy efficiency practices the district saved $1.2 million. It is now in its 40th month, however the savings data was not immediately available.

For more information on Energy Star, go to www.energystar.gov/buildings.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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