Schools aim for energy efficiency
EAGLE COUNTY – Your average family of four could easily spend $2,000 a year on electricity and gas.The Eagle County School District, a growing family of more than 5,300, runs a bill of about $1.4 million a year.It’s a hefty bill, one that’s grown 48 percent in just four years, and one that will keep growing, said Karen Strakbein, assistant superintendent of business services.That’s why the district is beginning work on a wide range of conservation projects aimed at improving energy efficiency in the schools and saving money in the long run. The initial investment is a big one – $5 million – but Strakbein says the improvements will definitely put money back into the schools over time.”Those dollars that we don’t spend on utilities we can spend in the classroom,” Strakbein said.
This will be the sort of project where few double pane windows can make a difference. So can softer light bulbs and turning off freezers and refrigerators during the summer. One school, Red Sandstone Elementary, is slated to have its windows tinted.Then there will be bigger projects like tearing out old, outdated hot water boilers and installing ultra-efficient boilers. Most schools should expect variable speed hot water pumping, better climate control systems and customized lighting. Some schools might receive new kitchen equipment, radiant gas heat systems and separate heating units for cafeteria kitchens. Ennovate Corporation, the firm handling the energy overhaul, recommended at least 20 different measures for some or all the schools after a detailed examination of the buildings this summer.Now, after the passing of a bond question in November, the school district put those recommendations to use. Construction on several of the projects should begin after school lets out in May.”I believe this scored well when we were testing the bond issue,” school board Vice President Connie Kincaid-Strahan said. “They were receptive to the idea of increasing technology throughout the schools and the new schools themselves. People here are really open to energy conservation.”School board President Scott Green noticed that many people he talked to were more preoccupied with the new high school during the bond campaign, but he said most people who live here can appreciate the environmental aspects of their plan.”If we can limit raw material used to run these buildings, that’s always a good thing,” Green said. “We live in a pretty neat area, and anything we can do for the environment is a plus.”
Strakbein said the measures are expected to save $674,700 during the first year and increasing amounts each additional year as energy costs rise. The district expects a return on its $5 million investment within seven years.”Obviously, the kids have to have lights, they have to have warmth, they have to have water, and the prices aren’t going down,” Green said. “We have to pay for energy out of our budget, and soon, we can put that $600,000 plus savings a year into books, computers and technology.”Green also likes that the investment is guaranteed – if the money spent doesn’t realize the projected savings, he said, Ennovate will be the one out the money.Ennovate Corporation’s initial cost estimate was $7,422,399 – quite a bit more than the school system’s $5 million budget. Strakbein said they’re still waiting on bids for individual projects, and hopefully the actual cost of the projects will be less than anticipated. If the total cost is still over budget, the district will have to decide which projects to cut or if they can be financed in other ways.If the school district ends up spending more than $7 million on the improvements, it would take about nine years to pay back, Strakbein said.Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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