By Jennifer Wohlleb
No stone was too small to leave unturned in the search for energy savings at Fayette County’s Rosa Parks Elementary, with students going so far as to unplug electric pencil sharpeners and replace them with the old-fashioned, manual kind.
It was that kind of dedication that allowed the 15-year-old school to reduce its annual energy consumption by 47 percent without any type of construction or renovation projects.
Photo: From left. Rosa Parks Elementary parent Chris Tyler, Fayette County Board of Education Chairman John Price, Fayete County Energy Manager Britney Thompson and Carrie Kelty, CMTA Engineers.
District leaders shared their success story during a clinic session at KSBA’s 76th annual conference in Feb. 3-5.
Rosa Parks was one of two schools Fayette County selected to serve as pilot sites when the district created its sustainability team in 2009.
“As board members, you’re always looking at your costs, and our mission in Fayette County – and I’m sure it is in yours – is to put as many dollars as possible in the classroom,” said Fayette County school board Chairman John Price. “So anytime we can control our operating costs, facilities, transportation, we’re looking to control those costs.”
He said with annual energy costs of about $9 million, the district began looking for ways to save.
The team identified three main areas of savings: mechanical systems, building envelope and building operations, which is how the occupants are using it.
“I think one of the best ways that we teach our students is not through what we say but what we do, through the actions that we take and when we involve them in activities,” he said. “I think they learn a lot more.”
The students were a huge factor in adopting changes at the school, along with a supportive principal.
“The reason it was picked as a pilot site is because of the culture that already existed,” said Energy Manager Britney Thompson, who was hired in 2010 through the School Energy Managers Project. “The principal was really gung-ho, excited. She really wants to empower her students and faculty to do this, not just for the saving money part of it, but for the educational aspect. She realizes students want to be good stewards of our environment and want to grow up and be good citizens out in this world.”
As part of Rosa Park’s Green Team, students contributed to the culture change by participating in the Student Energy Patrols.
“When classrooms go to lunch, if they leave the lights on or their computers on, when they come back they may find that a student energy patrol had come by and they’re going to find a Post-it note reading, ‘thank you for eUsing energy wisely,’ which is part of the district’s E=Use2 sustainability initiative,” said parent Chris Tyler, who is also a member of the Green Team. “It reminds them that they left the lights or the computer monitors on.”
Teachers and staff members were also a significant part of the energy savings. Tyler, who is also an engineer with Thermal Equipment Sales, said the kitchen staff were asked about their daily routine and the sustainability team was able to find energy savings by making simple changes.
“One woman explained that when she comes in in the morning, she goes ahead and turns the (stove) hoods on, turns the equipment on and didn’t really think much about it,” he said. “She didn’t realize that every time she turned those big hoods on how much of that already conditioned air in the building is being sucked out and thrown outside. And when you throw that air out, you’re having to bring more air in that has to be heated or cooled. Let’s say it’s 10 degrees outside; it’s almost like throwing the window open.”
The custodial staff made its own contribution by changing their cleaning routine.
“A common way for the custodial staff to clean the building at the end of the day is to turn all the lights on throughout the building and as they go through and clean the classrooms, (and) to turn off the light to know that they’ve cleaned that particular class,” Tyler said. “When they started going through and understanding the impact they were having, the janitorial staff bought in real quick and they started changing their processes. They started turning the lights on classroom-by-classroom as they cleaned.”
He said teachers were challenged by Principal Leslie Thomas to reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent.
“One of the things she did, which exemplified her support, is that she issued a challenge to all teachers that they needed to save 20 percent energy within the school or else they were going to lose all their personal refrigerators in their classrooms,” he said.
Thompson said the district does not legislate against personal appliances in the classroom; that’s left up to individual schools. But she does recommend being smart about their use.
“Teachers don’t always have time to run down the hall and stand in line on their 20-minute break,” she said. “I personally don’t think you need to take every refrigerator and microwave from the classrooms, but there has to be a balance to it. Maybe go Energy Star on some of those things, or share a refrigerator among four people instead of everyone having their own.”
Thompson said teachers also need to remember to unplug all of those appliances when they leave for summer break.
School officials estimate that 30.5 percent of the school’s energy savings comes from cultural changes, while about 16 percent comes from mechanical systems. The building also saw its Energy Star rating go from 19 to 91 on a 100-point scale.
Thompson said the school will serve as a great example of what other schools can accomplish with relatively simple changes.
“If we can accomplish even 20 percent of this at our other 51 schools – and I believe we are capable of that – then wow, how much savings would that be?” she asked.