Maintenance & Operations

Empower the Users

Many school divisions across the country are facing financial hardships; however there are resources available in your school divisions that may help with reducing energy costs. Energy teams in schools can be an effective part of an overall energy management program. Involving students, teachers, custodians and other support staff as part of site-based energy management teams may impact occupant behavior and help to reduce overall energy costs.

Every school division should have an energy management policy in place that directs the school division to monitor and manage energy consumption. In addition, some state governments have mandated energy reduction for all public institutions. As a result, it is important that all stakeholders understand not only the economic advantages of energy savings, but the long term environmental impact and benefits of being good energy stewards. Energy management teams in schools should be tasked to implement behavioral strategies that encourage practices that will result in a measurable reduction in energy usage.

Creating school based energy teams that can be effective should be inclusive of all building stakeholders. Under the leadership of a building level administrator, preferably one whose duties include building management, a representative committee of instructional and non-instructional staff should focus on daily practices and building use in order to develop energy management unique to their school. For example, teams should focus on creating an environment in their building where energy conservation is part of the culture of the school. Setting reasonable and manageable goals will help in gaining support and cooperation among staff. Setting a goal to reduce energy consumption by five percent over the school year and strategies to accomplish that goal may be as simple as turning lights off in unoccupied spaces and turning off devices such as computers and printers when not in use. Teams should not concentrate on design, major mechanical or other physical constraints of the school plant. Renovation or upgrades to the facility should be the responsibility of the school division’s maintenance department. School goals should focus on energy reduction based upon staff and student behavioral changes in addition to school management practices.

Once your teams are formed, they must be consistent in monitoring agreed upon energy saving practices for their school. Developing and posting a classroom energy checklist can act as a reminder to staff to practice good energy conservation methods in their classrooms. Checklists could include monitoring lights, turning off computers and monitors when the classroom is unoccupied, and keeping windows and doors closed. These simple steps can help maintain classroom temperature and improve thermal comfort and help reduce costs. Custodians and other support staff can monitor large unoccupied areas such as cafetoriums, gymnasiums and auditoriums to ensure that lighting is off when not in use. This will help to reduce energy consumption in these high-energy use areas. In addition, energy teams can actively seek grant opportunities for energy conservation projects from local and state governments as well as utility partners and providers. These opportunities can become a useful teaching tool and incentive for students to look beyond their classrooms for learning opportunities. Students in turn can apply information regarding energy savings from their school to their homes.

Each team should meet at least three times during the academic year to review energy usage data that can be provided by the school division’s Energy Program and evaluate the effectiveness of in–house conservation practices. Encourage student participation in energy saving awareness via co-curricular organizations. Energy Clubs are an excellent means to develop student and staff energy conservation awareness. Allowing students to perform energy audits, observing areas that are in need of repair and identifying areas of energy loss throughout building, allows students the opportunity to actively seek ways to conserve energy. Recognizing those schools and individuals that exemplify energy stewardship at the division level helps bring public attention to energy conservation and highlights each school’s activities and other events that support energy reduction and education.

By empowering teachers and students with the responsibility of managing energy consumption in their own classroom, schools can begin to see a reduction in energy costs. For example, in a 2013 comprehensive study conducted by Optimal Energy Inc. for the New York Power Authority, Best Practices For Energy Cost Savings In New York Public Schools were determined. The study cited 10 Best Practices. The study cites non-cost opportunities for savings. Changing occupant behavior through education and awareness can possibly reduce energy costs up to 25 percent.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

John A. Bailey, Ph.D. is the director of School Plants for Chesapeake Public Schools and a National School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Virginia, and a Virginia School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Region II, in Virginia.

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