Energy savings add up for school district
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
Facing proposed budget cuts of historic amounts, the Carson City School District is struggling to figure out how it could cut up to 34 percent from its general fund.
However, an ending-fund balance of $11.5 million will help buffer the loss.
This three-part series will look at ways the district is considering making cuts and explore how it managed to save more money than any other district in the state.
Sunday: A look at what one school is doing to help cut costs and ways the school district has been preparing for proposed cuts.
Today: Director of Operations Mike Mitchell will retire at the end of this month. For the last 16 years, he has worked with the district and energy experts to reduce utility costs.
Tuesday: School enrollment has been declining since 2003. Since then, the district has left many positions vacant once employees resign or retire. The school district office will also be losing staff this year and reorganizing how it operates.
When Carson Middle School health teacher Lisa Schuette turns off the lights in her classroom for a presentation, the room doesn’t go instantly dark.
Instead, the switch signals the shades on the skylights to slowly close, gradually darkening the room. The same thing happens when she turns them back on.
“They’re not like normal lights that when they come on real fast they hurt your eyes,” explained student Monte Howell, 13.
The skylights were a major part of the school’s $14 million remodel and renovation over the summer.
Schuette has worked at the school for nine years, and said she notices a difference with natural daylight in the room.
“It’s easier on the eyes,” she said. “It’s a comfortable light. It’s peaceful.”
The lights are also easier on the school district’s budget.
After skylights were installed at neighboring Bordewich-Bray Elementary School during its remodel in 2002, district officials found an 80 percent savings in lighting costs.
According to Mike Mitchell, director of operations for the Carson City School District, electricty makes up about 75 percent of the district’s operating costs. Of that, lighting accounts for 40 percent of the cost.
“Our biggest energy user is lighting,” Mitchell said. “People may think it’s heating, but very little of our electrical load has to do with heating.”
Seeing the savings at Bordewich-Bray, the skylights were incorporated into the design of the 40,000-square-foot addition at Carson Middle School, built with a portion of the $25 million bond issue passed in 2006.
The addition updated antiquated features of the 1956 building and replaced portable buildings being used as classrooms.
According to numbers presented by Carl Keller of Quality Control, an energy management company that works with the school district, it costs about $5.40 per square foot to operate a portable classroom.
Before remodeling Carson Middle School, it cost 97 cents per square foot to operate the 125,000 square-foot building. After the remodel, the cost dropped to 63 cents per square foot.
So even with 40,000 additional square feet at the school, the energy costs dropped from $121,250 to $103,950.
Similar upgrades and automated systems throughout the district have helped save $5.3 million over the last 16 years.
Keller said investing money to save energy has paid off. For instance, Carson Middle School is equipped with sensors to detect when people are in the room so lights turn on and off accordingly and the skylights adjust to let more or less daylight in.
“It’s really a one-of-a-kind facility,” Keller said.
Measures used at other schools include upgraded and automated heating and cooling units, and managing energy use to times when it is least expensive.
For example, during winter months an additional charge of 2.75 cents per kilowatt hour is added to the electric bill for use between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Between 5 and 10 p.m., and additional 9.25 cents is added per kilowatt hour.
Keller said they try to reduce use during those peak times.
However, the benefits aren’t all monetary.
According to a study of daylighting conducted in 1999 for the California Board of Energy Efficiency, the Heschong Mahone Group wrote, “We found that students with the most daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent on reading tests in one year than those with the least.”
“On the energy side, we can quantify the value,” Keller said. “But on the learning side, how do you quantify that value?”