Douglas schools pursuing energy savings plan

Douglas County School District is looking to cut energy costs at schools.

Earlier this month, the school board agreed to have the energy services company Ameresco perform an audit of the district's buildings.

"What it means is that Ameresco will have two months to look at our schools from top to bottom and make recommendations on how to increase our energy efficiency," said business services director Holly Luna. "The public needs to know that we aren't just asking for a bond, but are trying to save money and cut costs on our own."

In September, school board members approved the formation of the committee, Keep Improving Douglas Schools, which was tasked with exploring funding options for the district's capital improvement projects, which exceed $100,000. Because of a shortfall in property tax revenue, Gov. Jim Gibbons' proposed 4.5 percent budget cut for K-12 education, and the possible loss of a special privilege tax in 2011 when existing bonds retire, school officials are looking to find ways to fund their improvement projects. If the committee decides the issuance of a new bond meets current needs, they'll make that recommendation to the school board, and the board will have until July to place a bond measure on the ballot for November's election.

Luna gave examples of energy efficiency projects the district could pursue without a bond, including the replacement of old, inefficient lights, the installation of double-pane windows, trash compactors and new boilers.

"With trash compactors, we'd pay for trash pickup once a month, versus twice a week," she said. "It would pay for itself in two years."

Luna said after the audit, if given approval by the board, Ameresco would act as a general contractor for the projects they recommended. She said Ameresco and not the school district would front initial costs of construction. The district would pay Ameresco only with the money saved by the new energy efficiencies.

"The only way we give them money up front is if we don't go ahead with the projects after the audit, and we have to pay for the audit," she said. "That would be about $70,000 to $90,000."

"It's a win-win situation," board Vice President Cynthia Trigg said. "We'll identify things that we can get a return on immediately."

Luna said Ameresco performed a cursory survey of Douglas High School, Carson Valley Middle School and Gardnerville Elementary School. With changes in lighting, computer power management, vending machine controls, new insulation and windows, among other things, Ameresco estimated they could cut energy costs in all three schools by 28 percent, said Luna.

Luna estimated the district spends $160,000 a month on electricity for all of its 12 schools.

"We got to look at the pay-back periods," she said. "New lights will pay off in five years, but new windows might not pay off for 70 years."

But Luna said long term, the projects will not only generate enough money to pay back the loans but enough to reinvest in maintenance.

"Those savings are rolled forward to do more projects," she said.

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