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District slashes $1 million from bill in 5 years

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Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has knocked $1 million off its annual energy bill and reduced consumption by more than 30 percent during the past five years.

The savings are the result of an energy-management program put in place to redirect taxpayer dollars into the classroom.

“Every dollar I save on heat is one that can be used on instruction,” said Charlie McCoy, BCSC energy manager.

He spends his days updating spreadsheets, reading meters and finding ways to invest in the newest energy-efficient equipment.

McCoy said he was confident those efforts would push the school corporation to reach its energy-savings goal — but that was before the arctic blast hit Columbus last week.

The district was on par to reduce energy consumption to 65,000 British thermal units per square foot by June 30, down from 87,000 in the 2008-09 school year, McCoy said. Btu is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree.

McCoy said he’s not sure how the subzero temperatures will translate to the next utility bill.

He said he is learning how to gauge improvement despite fluctuations in the working environment. And when there’s also fluctuation in energy costs, he said it’s easy to get discouraged by year-to-year comparisons of utility bills.

Although the district did not use more energy between July 2012 and June 2013 compared with the previous year, the energy bill was nearly $20,000 more.

It’s because of rising energy costs, and McCoy is coming to terms with that.

“Even if we flat-line, it’s allowing the district to optimize resources,” he said.

The energy-saving initiatives also teach students to be environmentally friendly adults, Superintendent John Quick said.

While the measures are important to the school district budget, they also are part of the curriculum.

“Just like wearing our seat belts and putting trash in the trash can, I think we’re doing a better job at becoming more environmentally conscious and preserving for the next generation,” Quick said. “That’s just part of our education process.”

All about learning

No matter how dedicated the district is to cutting energy consumption, there is one area where officials refuse to cut back: student comfort.

The optimal temperature for learning is between 70 and 74 degrees in the winter and 72 and 78 degrees in the summer, McCoy said. He has directed all buildings to establish and maintain that environment.

McCoy was a student during the 1970s nationwide energy crisis and remembers being miserable in the temperature and lighting.

“We want (students) to spend energy learning, not worrying about their body heat,” he said.

Quick agrees, adding that he fully supports any initiative that will not dim the lights or result in students worrying about temperature and humidity.

A training process

The district also is teaching its own employees about energy-saving behaviors.

McCoy was an educator before he was an energy guru, and that experience has helped him in the effort.

He has asked teachers to modify some behaviors — from making a habit of turning the lights off when they leave a room to asking them to only use the coffeemaker and microwave in the break room.

He has told custodians to turn lights on only as needed, when before they would turn lights off as they went.

So far, it seems to be working.

When McCoy walks through the buildings at night, which he said he often does just to make sure the air handlers are humming to the right tune, about 95 percent of lights and computers are turned off.

Teachers also have been asked to let McCoy know what’s going on in their classrooms after hours. Unless a request is submitted to keep the classroom at the optimal temperature for learning, an automated system adjusts the heating or cooling by a few degrees when the school day ends.

But McCoy said he worries he might be living on a honeymoon.

“It’s just as easy to relearn bad habits as it is to learn good ones,” he said.

And behavioral modifications can save only so much energy, so McCoy is on the lookout for physical investments with a quick payback.

Finding returns

Energy audits performed at various buildings have revealed a list of inefficiencies.

There are more efficient boilers on the market than the ones in use at Northside Middle School, for example, but replacing them would be an $80,000 investment that would reduce energy consumption by just 15 percent.

Yet there are other improvements the district has invested in, such as new heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls at Southside and Lincoln elementary schools, that have resulted in 25 percent to

30 percent reductions in energy consumption.

And there’s the recent renovations at Columbus North High School that brought new heating and cooling systems and occupancy sensors to turn lights on and off automatically.

Energy usage there dropped 22 percent despite the addition of 125,000 square feet. The average cost per square foot is now $1.03, compared with $1.31 before the renovations and equipment upgrades.

Steve Forster, director of facilities and maintenance, said all the pieces are in place for CNHS to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of the highest level. He said it’s just a matter of collecting the right documentation and submitting the application.

Recognizing success

Despite his concerns about how the heating systems took on the winter weather, McCoy said BCSC is making tremendous progress in energy savings.

He’s not the only one who thinks so. Duke Energy named BCSC a Power Partner, an award that honored 18 organizations of all sizes — from a school district one-third of the size of BCSC to the entire chain of Wal-Mart stores — for innovation in smart energy usage.

Officials from Duke will attend the Jan. 27 board meeting to present the award, and McCoy is making sure those responsible will get the credit — complete with a dinner at Smith’s Row, sponsored by Duke.

While he is in his office poring over utility bills or making a progress chart, it’s the electricians, HVAC technicians, custodians and other staff who are actively making the difference.

“All these charts and graphs won’t mean anything if there aren’t people to help make it work,” he said. “Somebody is owning it, and that’s what’s important.”

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