Efforts are under way to improve a Janesville school’s energy efficiency

Print Print
Monday, September 26, 2011
— A funny thing happened recently when Janesville public school officials took a look at the district’s elementary school energy use.

The district’s newest elementary school rose to the top, but not as the most energy-efficient. Quite the contrary.

Kennedy Elementary was by far the biggest energy user among the district’s 12 elementary schools.

Kennedy opened in 1999 on the northeast side of the city. It is completely air conditioned, unlike the other elementary schools. The air conditioning makes Kennedy perfect for summer school, while some other schools are shut down for the summer.

But something else was contributing to energy costs that were 63 percent greater than the next-biggest elementary energy user in 2009-10. Kennedy used a lot of electricity, but it also was burning a lot of natural gas.

The school board’s buildings-and-grounds committee met at Kennedy in June to take a look. Coincidentally, it was the second-hottest day of the year, with a high of 97.

The group walked from a warm hallway into a boiler room. The air was stiflingly hot.

“I asked why heck the boiler was going,” said Greg Ardrey, chairman of the board’s buildings and grounds committee.

As they roasted, Dave Leeder, maintenance supervisor, explained what was going on.

The warm-water lines that heat the building are part of both the heating and the cooling systems, Leeder said. If the warm-water lines weren’t kept at a high enough temperature, the seals in the fittings that hold pipes together would fail, so there was no choice but to keep the boiler fired up.

Leeder later told a reporter that this had been going on for many years, perhaps all the way back to when the school was built.

Kennedy wasn’t unusual in this respect, Leeder said. Other buildings built in other communities around the same time had the same problem and the same natural gas-guzzling solution.

School board members asked what could be done. Soon, the gaskets in 24 of questionable fittings were replaced and the boiler shut down.

The school saw an immediate drop in natural gas costs.

The new gaskets were bathed in a silicone solution before installation, and Leeder suspects that wasn’t done originally, so he is hopeful the new seals will do the trick.

Why the problem didn’t come to officials’ attention before is unknown to District CFO Keith Pennington, who has been with the district two years.

Pennington said his best guess is that Kennedy’s energy bills were compared month to month but never to the bills for the other schools.

“Our current detailed energy review has now put the information front and center, in the spotlight, and we are looking at the proper detail to discover and then perform specific action …” Pennington wrote in an email to the Gazette.

Saving money in energy use has been a topic at board meetings for some time, especially in the past two years, Ardrey said.

The school board last year started evaluating principals, in part, on how much energy their buildings use. Those evaluations, which are a part of the Journey to Excellence process that The Studer Group brought to the district, could make a difference in administrators’ paychecks, so officials are motivated.

The district met last year’s goal of a 5 percent reduction in energy use. The board set the same goal for the current year and added water usage when it was discovered that some schools were using a lot more water than others with similar enrollments.

The water apparently is being flushed away. Flush valves at some schools are more efficient than at others. Officials are working on a solution.

Kennedy likely will go a long way toward saving the district on energy costs this year.

Pennington reported to the school board this month that Kennedy’s energy use has already dropped appreciably.

Officials also undertook a series of other steps they believe will further reduce Kennedy’s energy use. They’re also focusing on Lincoln Elementary, the next-highest energy user on a per-square-foot basis.

The school board, meanwhile, is expected to decide at its meeting Tuesday night whether to close an elementary school next year. Kennedy is one of three schools that had been examined in depth for potential closing.

Energy costs aren’t the only factor in what will be a difficult decision. While Kennedy has been an energy hog, it’s also a very good school when it comes to teaching and learning. Kennedy recently won a national award for doing well on test scores even though nearly half of the students come from low-income homes.


Here are some other measures the Janesville School District is taking to reduce energy use at Kennedy School and, in some cases, elsewhere in the district:

-- Art teachers district wide will be told to program kilns to run during off-peak hours. As kilns are replaced, only programmable kilns will be purchased.

-- Full-size refrigerators assigned to each grade-level “pod” at Kennedy will be consolidated, and staff will be asked to use the break room refrigerator for their lunches and other small daily uses.

-- Temperatures in entryway areas will be reduced. Some or all had been set as if those areas were regularly occupied.

-- Lights in vending machines will be turned off or removed.

-- Hot water heaters were turned down in an experiment to see whether the water supply remains hot enough for kitchen needs.

-- A variety of projects are under way to install more energy efficient light fixtures or bulbs and more room occupancy and daylight sensors that turn off lights automatically. Incentive funding is available for some of this work.

Last updated: 6:16 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

Print Print