Cost Effective, Healthy & Energy Efficient Schools
by Richard Donnelly, Strategic Planning Manager
A school building, and how effectively it operates, can impact everything from budgets and student performance, to the health of students, teachers, and the environment. Typically, energy costs are about 2-3% of a school budget, which does not sound like a lot – but, in practice, they are one of the largest controllable costs, second only to personnel. The top performing ENERGY STAR® schools cost 40 cents per square foot less to operate than average performing schools.
In addition, recent studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Student Clearinghouse show that a school building's environmental quality affects student performance and attendance. Whether its classroom lighting designed to reduce eye strain or efficient heating and ventilation systems that provide fresh air and comfort; many schools are striving for healthy, cost-effective, and energy efficient operations.
Making the grade: getting Vermont schools ENERGY STAR certified
After completing energy efficiency upgrades in 2011, Lake Region Union High School Principal Andre Messier asked us, “What's our grade?” He wanted to know how his school measured up and how they could keep improving; on not only their energy efficiency score, but improving indoor air quality, student performance, and last, but never least, strengthening the bottom line of the school and community.
Using the school’s energy bills and other data, Efficiency Vermont helped the school benchmark their facility using the EPA's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager Tool. The tool rates building performance on a scale of 1-100. A score of 75 or higher qualifies the school for ENERGY STAR certification, and indicates that they are in the top 25% of schools nationwide. For Lake Region, maximizing the energy efficiency of their operations had long been a focus – and we suspected that they would measure up very well. In the year prior to benchmarking, they were able to reduce their electric usage by an impressive 29%. As it turned out, Lake Region’s score of 97 was one of the top ENERGY STAR scores for Vermont schools in 2013, bested only by Woodbury Elementary with a score of 98!
Lake Region Union High School accepting their ENERGY STAR award on November 7, 2013.
Great work is being done all over the state: In 2013, 10 public schools joined Lake Region to become the first ENERGY STAR certified schools in Vermont. Since 2000, these 11 schools have completed 83 projects resulting in over 2 million kWh in electrical energy reductions and over $4 million in estimated lifetime savings.
Moving Vermont schools forward
This November, Efficiency Vermont, in partnership with Vermont Superintendents Association School Energy Management Program, launched an initiative called Project Green School.
Project Green School aims to help all of Vermont’s nearly 300 public schools attain ENERGY STAR certification. Ultimately we want to make sure that every student, teacher, and community can experience the benefits of sustainable and healthy learning environments, and the big cost savings they generate for school districts.
Has your local school taken on a project that reduced energy costs? Are you interested in helping them take part in Project Green School? Let us know in the comments below.