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System warms to energy savings

Thermostats, lighting key to cutting costs

POSTED: August 7, 2012 8:30 a.m.
Jim Dean/

Kirk Hughes connects the wires to a new ballast as he changes parts in light fixtures at Midway Elementary to make them more efficient.

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It’s always 74 degrees with little humidity in Forsyth County.

At least, that’s the consistent weather pattern during regular hours inside the county’s public schools, which start a new school year Aug. 9.

It wasn’t always that way. In 2002, the temperature went from 70 to 72 degrees, which was again raised about six years ago to 74.

“There’s a pattern here,” said Bill McKnight, director of facilities for the school system.

Yes, it has gotten warmer. But with special units that keep classrooms at a low humidity rate, the difference is negligible, McKnight said. The rising temperature is part of efforts over the past decade to cut costs and become more environmentally friendly.

“It has been even more imperative with the challenging economy that we seek savings in a variety of ways that help make us more efficient while providing a comfortable work and educational environment,” said Superintendent Buster Evans.

McKnight said 2006 was a year of sweeping change to make the school system more environmentally friendly, while also saving money on utilities.

Among the changes, heating and air conditioning units were replaced, schools used daylight harvesting and petal valves were placed on kitchen sinks.

“As far as dollars go, the waterless urinals were probably the biggest thing we did,” McKnight said. “When you think about it, you’re saving a gallon of water every time a guy goes into a restroom. That’s huge.”

This past year, the facilities department budget dropped by 10 percent. The year before saw 15 percent in cuts on top of the 10 percent cut from the 2009-10 year.

The 2012-13 school year is the first in several where there were no cuts.

McKnight said lights account for about 30 percent of the system’s utility bill. That’s why the system is always looking for lighting solutions.

However, the cost of making changes often outweighs the benefit. It becomes a delicate balance, McKnight said.

“The easiest thing we ever did was at Coal Mountain Elementary,” he said.

All lights in the gym were replaced with florescent lights, which would have cut costs enough, but “we also installed a motion detector, so if nobody was in the gym, they were cut off.

“If the sun is shining in, there’s a sensor that picks up on that and so it basically will shut half of the lights off.”

Settles Bridge Elementary and the new Kelly Mill Elementary are also equipped with such sensors.

“The big hold back on that has been that it’s taken so long to get payback on it,” McKnight said. “But the cost of those has come down a bit because the technology is catching up.

“I think we will go back and retrofit everything if it’s cost effective.”

The system is working from a five-year policy, meaning it will implement technology only when savings make up for the cost within that span.

In 2000, the system started using a facilities management program that allowed individual thermostats to be controlled from a central location.

“Before we had our control system, everything ran 24/7 unless somebody set the thermostat on,” McKnight said.
About six months ago, the system switched to SchoolDude, a similar program that’s easier to use and tracks utility bills to show savings.

That said, money can still be saved by simply flipping a switch.

“If we could teach people to turn off the lights when they leave the room, we could probably save a half a million dollars,” he said.

But slowly, that individual responsibility is happening. Today’s students are more environmentally conscious.

“Younger people are much more aware of environmental issues than their parents. They ask a lot of questions,” McKnight said. “They’ve been raised with much more awareness.”

 

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