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Building audits will help district save energy, and money

The Phoenix-Talent School District’s new business manager has put the district on an energy-savings push, saying the schools could save as much as $250,000 a year through implementing simple practices such as shutting down computers at night.

Within an hour of receiving an email on energy savings from Business Manager David Marshall, Talent Middle School Assistant Principal Patrick Couture was talking with Technology Director Tom Bigboy about possibilities to eliminate overnight running. Couture brought up ideas at the next administrators’ meeting and a program was implemented rapidly.

“A lot of times an administrator was in the building late in the evening. We’d see a number of computers that are running overnight,” said Couture. “It was kind of one of those things, ‘Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?’”

Marshall told the School Board at its Oct. 2 meeting he estimated the district could save a quarter million dollars annually with conservation measures implemented over the next two years. Previously business manager at the Three Rivers School District, he said that district realized substantial savings.

Oregon’s Department of Energy produces an energy use index with comparisons by schools. The study is part of Oregon Senate Bill 1149 that also provides for energy audits and money to do energy improvement work funded by a 3 percent, public-purpose charge on energy bills. If a school uses all of its allocated funds under the program it may seek Energy Trust of Oregon dollars.

Phoenix-Talent schools are above the usage for other districts in the area, but not as high as Three Rivers had been, said Marshall. Costs and payback by energy savings will be considered in selecting which energy savings improvements may be adopted.

Audits have been conducted at Phoenix High School, the middle school and Talent and Phoenix elementary schools. Orchard Hill Elementary will be audited within two weeks. Results should be presented to the School Board in January.

“My gut feeling is there are going to be issues with boilers and heat pumps and all sorts of HVAC equipment,” said Marshall. “The big stuff can generate the most savings. If you have 30- to 50-year-old infrastructure you know there are going to be improvements.”

Lighting may offer another area for good savings, said Marshall.

Districtwide there are about 1,000 computers, said Marshall. Shutting them down at night would save an estimated $40 per year, per computer, or $40,000. But being cautious, Marshall put estimated savings from the shutdowns between $10,000 and $20,000 annually.

Bigboy developed a program to shut down the computers. Those at the high school got the change first as a test, then it was rolled out rapidly at the middle school and elementary schools.

Under the old system, the last teacher in a computer lab was to make sure machines were shut down. But sometimes a lab was used only in the morning and a teacher wouldn't know that was all for the day.

“Some of us, myself included, especially with laptops, our computers would go to a sleep mode,” said Couture. “We were just ready to get home to our families and not ready to go to a shutdown.”

Some computers may never have been shut down for up to 20 days, said Couture. Besides saving energy, some computers must be shut off in order to be automatically updated.

More instruction for kids may come from the savings. Couture said saving on computer shutdowns could pay for a classroom instructional aide. Each $60,000 saved could provide one teaching positon, Marshall said.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com