Every year, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board president Jeff Caldwell asks how the district is doing with energy consumption.
“How do we compare with other schools, other districts?” He’ll ask.
But the district’s energy manager, Charlie McCoy, has never had a good answer or benchmark tool — until now.
Columbus schools are using energy more efficiently than the national average, and five buildings are in the top 25 percent.
McCoy made the discovery while toying around with the Energy Star certification process, which helps businesses and individuals examine their energy use and compare it to similar buildings across the country.
He learned five buildings met the Energy Star criteria and scored more than 75 on the 100-point scale: Clifty Creek Elementary School, Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus, Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, Columbus North High School and Columbus East High School.
Those schools will have the familiar blue star logo posted near the entry, and the district will be awarded certificates, but that’s not why McCoy made the effort.
“The goal wasn’t to become certified,” he said. “It was to get good benchmark data that will allow us to compare our buildings to those across the nation, across Indiana.”
The source energy use index, used to calculate the Energy Star score, represents the total amount of raw fuel required to operate a building.
It incorporates transmission, delivery and production losses.
Using that calculation, McCoy found there are some buildings close to Energy Star certification and others that had a ways to go.
Parkside Elementary School, for example, is just four points away from the certification score.
It’s possible the school could reach its goal by managing light usage more vigilantly.
But for schools such as Mt. Healthy Elementary, which scored 40 on the Energy Star scale, it will take more than a change in behavior to improve.
McCoy said teachers and principals have reached out asking how to help reach the certification, but in some cases he has to explain that new boilers or HVAC equipment may be required.
He hopes to see all schools score above 50, which is considered average, but he’s happy with the first round of results.
“That’s a good start for our first time around,” he said. “But I’ve never been a person who likes average. We will do average first, and then move on to excellent and superior.”
He emphasized the word “we.”
He gave credit to Steve Forster and Loren Brumment, who are both part of the facilities and maintenance team at BCSC, for improving energy conservation.
It was also the staff monitoring the buildings for odd sounds or faulty equipment, the custodians closing down the schools at night and the teachers shutting off lights when the students leave that is moving the scores upward, he said.
“Something has caused this to work,” he said. “That’s evidence of good decisions by everyone. It makes a big difference.”
The difference was evident when McCoy examined energy bills from the winter, which was one of the harshest on record and required schools to be heated at all times to avoid freezing pipes.
Preliminary bills show energy consumption was lower from the year before, McCoy said.
“We’re trying to do the very best we can,” he said. “That’s important for people to understand. People work hard for their money, and we don’t want to see it wasted on energy.”