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Heat, light, air: Janesville school officials hope to save on necessities

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
September 26, 2010
— Consider the massive amount of space in Janesville public school buildings.

Then consider heating, cooling and lighting in that space.


Last year, the school district spent $2.66 million for natural gas and electricity in 17 school buildings and the central office. That’s about $280 per student.


Energy is not the biggest item in the district’s budget, but it’s an item on which district officials are hoping to see some savings at a time when every dollar counts.


The school board has set a goal of reducing energy usage by 5 percent this year.


The board thinks this is so important that it has made energy savings one of the measures by which Superintendent Karen Schulte’s performance will be measured. Which means principals will have an energy mandate on their plates as well.


A school board committee this week heard a report on last school year’s energy use. The report had some good news and, as educators like to call them, opportunities for improvement.


Good news: The recently expanded and renovated high schools’ energy costs are lower than they were before the project on a per-square-foot basis, even though the entire buildings are now air conditioned and costs of electricity and gas have risen.


Craig and Parker’s costs were $1.28 per square foot last year, compared with $1.62 in 2005-06. A comparison of the total energy bills for those years was not immediately available.


The report, prepared by North American Mechanical, found no significant differences between Craig and Parker high schools.


The two schools’ energy costs were $965,688 for the year. If they had operated as they did in 2005-06, the district would have spent an extra $258,193, according to the report.


Even so, North American Mechanical’s Jerry Tinberg said fine-tuning could squeeze more savings from the high schools.


Bad news: Kennedy, the newest elementary school, costs the most, at $2.01 per square foot. Kennedy is the only fully air-conditioned elementary school, which accounts for some of the cost but not all, Tinberg said.


Tinberg, who used to work for the district, suggested checking the controls at Kennedy to see when it’s set for heat to be turned down and A/C to be turned up.


The cheapest elementary school for energy usage is Adams, at 76 cents per square foot. Adams is one of the oldest schools. It has less air-conditioned space than the other schools.


Other problem areas include Franklin Middle School, which relies on an outdated steam-heat system. Franklin used about twice as much natural gas as the city’s other two middle schools.


“Replacing the system will be costly but ultimately worth it,” the report states.


Lincoln Elementary also has old equipment and would benefit from an upgrade, the report suggests.


Marshall Middle School, which is fully air-conditioned, should be looked at for usage patterns to cut back on A/C use, the report recommends.


Making sure the A/C or heat is turned up or down when rooms are not in use is a major conservation measure.


Some buildings have automated settings controlled by the district maintenance staff or North American Mechanical.


Other buildings have rooms with thermostats or window air conditioners. A district memo issued this July requires custodians to turn off window units and set thermostats to 75 degrees when students are not in those rooms.


Tinberg suggested one way to save: Consolidate small, inefficient refrigerators that employees bring to work and instead use a larger, centralized, energy-efficient fridge.


The district also is applying for grants to pay for energy-saving improvements through the state’s Focus on Energy program.


One of those projects could mean a new heating system for Franklin. Board member Peter Severson is pushing for the district to consider geothermal, solar and other “green” ways to save.


“Going ‘green’ is an option on everything,” district CFO Keith Pennington responded.


Tinberg said he thinks the entire district has potential for energy savings.


If the district reaches its goal of a 5 percent reduction this year, the savings would be $133,092, Pennington said.


That’s the yearly cost of salary and benefits for about two teachers, plus change.


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The Janesville School District will begin an energy-savings contest, pitting schools against each other, starting Friday, Oct. 1.


The contest is the brainchild of board member Peggy Sheridan. Schools who meet or exceed the goal of reducing energy use by 5 percent will be recognized.


Details have not been finalized, but officials are considering ways to involve students in the contest, including teaching about the environmental benefits of energy conservation.


“This is not going to be one of those everybody-gets-a-T-shirt-and-nothing-happens things,” district CFO Keith Pennington said of the contest. “This is something where you can see something really big happen, if we institute it properly.”


It’s school vs. school

The Janesville School District will begin an energy-savings contest, pitting schools against each other, starting Friday, Oct. 1.


The contest is the brainchild of board member Peggy Sheridan. Schools who meet or exceed the goal of reducing energy use by 5 percent will be recognized.


Details have not been finalized, but officials are considering ways to involve students in the contest, including teaching about the environmental benefits of energy conservation.


“This is not going to be one of those everybody-gets-a-T-shirt-and-nothing-happens things,” district CFO Keith Pennington said of the contest. “This is something where you can see something really big happen, if we institute it properly.”


Costs breakdown

Energy costs for Janesville School District:


Year Cost


2009-10 $2.66 million


2008-09 $2.66 million


2007-08 $2.55 million


2006-07 $2.45 million


2005-06 $2.52 million


Note: Electricity and natural gas combined.


Energy cost per square foot in Janesville public schools in 2009-10:


Elementary schools $0.99


High schools $1.28


Middle schools $1.44


Central office $1.55


District average $1.19


Sources: Janesville School District, North American Mechanical.



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