By Karen Kroll – Energy Efficiency
Individuals assigned to energy management in K-12 buildings don’t have to be full-time, especially in smaller districts. Mike Ellinger is the energy manager with DeKalb Central Schools in Waterloo, Ind. Ellinger, who oversees and tallies energy use within the six schools and one office building that partner with Energy Star, works about 20 hours each week. “That’s sufficient most weeks,” he says.
However, Ellinger adds that initially assembling the data required to work with the Energy Star program required a time commitment of several months. It required checking, for instance, the square footage of each building, the wattage of every light and the length of time water ran at the athletic fields. But with that information in hand, the district has avoided $6.3 million in energy costs over the past eight years Ellinger says.
Getting Others On Board
Once a school district’s leadership and its energy management team understand the merits of reducing energy consumption, the rest of the faculty and staff, as well as students and the broader community, need to be brought on board. After all, teachers usually are the ones who will have to make sure lights and equipment are turned off when not in use, while maintenance employees typically will need to see that the building systems are operating as efficiently as possible.
It’s not unusual to receive some pushback at first. Often, this is due to concerns about the potential negative impact that energy conservation measures may have on students and teachers.
To work through that, “we try to send the message that we’re in this together,” Hamilton says. Once everyone understands that saving energy doesn’t mean that the classrooms will be dark and cold all day long, most people support the efforts, he adds. Having the Energy Star distinction, which shows that the district is one of small percentage of districts across the country to have met energy-saving performance standards, also helps. “The community knows we’re trying to do our best,” when it comes to wisely using their tax dollars.
In DeKalb, Ellinger conveyed the message that “the money we save on energy can be put into programs for the kids.”
Some staff members also may be skeptical of the impact that such seemingly inconsequential actions as turning off the lights in a room will have. Overcoming this requires conveying the message that small changes truly can lead to large savings, Ellinger says. “Pennies add up to dollars.”