News and Tribune

June 12, 2008

NA-FC schools lead state in number of efficient schools

By TARA HETTINGER

Sitting at his computer, Tom Handy, manager of energy systems with New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools Corp., analyzes the temperature inside Green Valley Elementary School’s cafeteria.

It is off by three-tenths of a degree.

The computer has already kicked in to make up for the shift.

But if it didn’t, Handy, with a click of the mouse, could do it himself.

He also has the power to start up or turn off electricity and other utilities at each of the corporation’s buildings. In about 10 minutes, he can shut down all the power to the schools — in instances such as closings because of snow. He can also start them all up in about the same amount of time.

That management system — along with the energy efficiencies they bring — has earned the school system national recognition through the federal ENERGY STAR program.

Eleven of the corporation’s buildings have earned the label; 10 of those are schools. They are among 18 schools in Indiana have achieved that status.

“We’ve always felt that we were one of, if not the best, in energy efficiencies in Indiana,” said Bill Wiseheart, facilities director for NA-FC. “This helps prove that we are probably there.”

This has been many years in the making. Wiseheart said the corporation started looking into ways to save energy in the 1980s, just after the energy crisis of the 1970s. He said then they installed computers that would turn on and off systems to save energy.

That worked, but officials thought they could do better. So, in the 1990s and 2000s, the corporation started installing modern two-pipe systems for heating and cooling at the various buildings.

Two-pipe systems have gotten a bad reputation for taking too long to switch over from heating to cooling, sometimes up to 24 hours. Wiseheart said the new version of that system takes less than 20 minutes.

Wiseheart said installing this system verses the four-pipe design saved about $3 to $4 per square foot. He said the less piping and ductwork is what creates the savings.

That system is now in 19 of the corporation’s 20 buildings.

The corporation then installed a more high-tech monitoring system, which allows users to see every detail, from the exact temperatures in rooms to the percentage of outside air coming in.

Many problems the computer can and does fix on its own. However, someone was needed to make sure rooms were comfortable when in use and shut off when not. That’s where Handy comes in.

Wiseheart said someone else was needed to check the bills — to make sure they weren’t being overcharged — and to teach others about energy efficiency. So, an energy auditor was hired.

As school corporations around the nation have paid contracts with groups that help them reduce energy costs, Wiseheart said NA-FC officials did this just by using their own energy sense, and the bills are significantly lower than before.

This year, the savings were more than $500,000 for the corporation. Wiseheart said since the corporation isn’t spending as much money on utilities, that leaves more for students, teachers and the buildings.

Wiseheart doesn’t want to stop there. He predicts seven more buildings in the corporation will be named ENERGY STAR worthy this fall, which would bring the total for NA-FC to 18. He said the goal is for every building to reach that same status.

“We don’t want to slip,” Wiseheart said about being the school corporation with the most ENERGY STAR schools in Indiana. “We will continue to look at and advance with new ideas.”