Sustainable Schools

Taking Ownership of Energy Usage

Serving nearly 12,000 students at 19 schools, Gresham-Barlow School District is one of the larger districts in the state of Oregon. Many of the district’s buildings are several decades old, and energy expenditures once accounted for a full third of the overall operating budget. With a dedicated energy management program, supported by Dude Solutions’ Energy Manager (SchoolDude) software, we’ve saved roughly $1.5 million annually by reducing utility bills, energy consumption and emissions.

Energy management solutions can help reduce energy usage and costs by providing the data necessary to make actionable energy conservation plans that address behavioral changes and facility improvements. Utility tracking for electricity, natural gas, water, solid waste and recycling is available in nearly real-time, showing monthly and annual trends so schools know when peak times occur. This helps the school district use energy more efficiently and plan future budgets accordingly. With detailed tracking, we can also identify any potential billing errors or unusual spikes in usage that might point to under-performing buildings or an issue like a leak or failing equipment.

Our ENERGY STAR Partnership

Partnering with the EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program has allowed us to create metric-based goals for our district and also gain recognition for our energy conservation program. By integrating ENERGY STAR with Energy Manager, we can automate the process of monitoring ENERGY STAR scores and even compare to other ranked schools nationally or within a district.

Based on our ability to measure, track and benchmark energy performance, the school district has won the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award 10 out of the last 12 years. At the beginning of our energy management journey, the district had an ENERGY STAR score of 54 (out of 100), but today we have an average ENERGY STAR score of 97.

One of the most important initiatives of our energy management efforts is known as “Shutdown with ENERGY STAR.” Just prior to school breaks or long weekends, our superintendent reminds teachers, administrators, classified staff and custodians of their individual responsibilities and respective checklists related to energy savings. This has proven to be very effective before the school goes into temporary “shutdown” mode.

Getting Everyone Involved Yields Big Results

One of the main reasons our energy management program has been so successful is that we have worked hard to get everyone involved in these efforts. School principals and head custodians, armed with iPads, are empowered to take responsibility for specific energy programs within their buildings. Fostering competition among the buildings via ENERGY STAR scores and making responsible energy consumption fun has been very beneficial to our program — and sets a good example for our students.

Comprehensive benchmark data allows our school district to draw better conclusions about the path to efficient energy management and we can validate how energy initiatives have directly reduced energy costs. This is very valuable, as the tangible metrics make it more likely that everyone will work hard to continue these efforts in the future.

From principals to maintenance staff to teachers and staff, it takes the entire school district to make our energy management program work. Even students take responsibility for turning off light switches, a simple task that usually falls at the bottom of teachers’ extensive daily to-do lists. They also place stickers on electronics — such as overhead projectors — that are left powered on or plugged in when classes are not in session helping us all be more mindful of our energy usage.

Future Energy Savings

We’ve found that there’s more to our energy management efforts than reducing our operating costs and making everyone more aware of their usage. Our ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award performance — along with our schools being ENERGY STAR certified — our responsible energy management practices contributed to the passing of a $291-million bond in November 2016. Showing our local community that the many moving pieces of our school district can successfully work together for the good of our students, our facilities and our future inspired voters to vote in favor of this important bond.

Energy is a controllable and manageable cost, so the opportunity for savings is large. By being more energy efficient, we can help improve students’ learning environments and also use the savings from improved energy performance to help pay teacher salaries while also looking to make building improvements and other enhancements with those resources.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Terry Taylor is the director of Facilities for Gresham-Barlow School District in Gresham, Ore.

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