Jeff Monahan

Getting Back into the Black with Energy Savings

BSeveral years ago, the Unit Five school district in Normal, Illinois, a district of twenty schools with just under 12,750 students, was running what seemed to be an irreversible deficit in its operations and management (O&M) fund. After attempts at behavioral “please-turn-off-the-lights” changes proved unsuccessful, it became apparent that a more focused effort was needed. In 2005, the Board of Education made two critical decisions: Supervisor of Maintenance Jeff Monahan was enrolled in a BOC training program, and the board signed a contract with an energy efficiency consulting firm, Energy Education, Inc. of Dallas, Texas. The combination proved to be a fruitful one.

Shortly thereafter, another piece fell into place when Bruce Boswell was hired as an energy manager for the district to concentrate specifically on energy savings. Boswell, too, enrolled in the BOC training program and worked with Energy Education consultants to implement the much-needed changes.

With Monahan at the supervising helm, several energy cost-saving initiatives were begun. The two most notable successes were: 1) obtaining lighting retrofit grants for several buildings from Clean Energy Illinois and 2) changing some older schools from gas fired boiler heat to geothermal heating. For lighting, T-12 fixtures at several sites were replaced with T-8s, resulting in both energy savings and increased light levels – a true ‘win-win’ situation. One junior high school reported a reduction in annual consumption of 8.5%, translating to over 144,000 kWh due to the change. The second initiative, however, was much more involved.

Several older buildings in the district had aging heating systems in dire need of replacement. Monahan began exploring replacement possibilities including, at the behest of Assistant Superintendent John Pye, geothermal. Initial prospects for geothermal over convention heating systems looked promising but while still studying possibilities, local architectural firm Middleton and Associates became involved. The firm had already completed geothermal renovations in other school districts and through this association, Monahan was connected to Kirk Mescher, an engineer specializing in geothermal applications (C M Engineering).

In the summer of 2006, elementary schools Glenn and Oakdale – each over 50 years old – were converted from boiler heating to geothermal. Work was completed during summer and the buildings were ready for use the first day of school. An added benefit of the new systems was that air conditioning was also available. To date, six buildings have been converted to geothermal and two more are scheduled for the summer of 2009. Also, three new schools beginning construction this spring will also be geothermal saving more energy and money.

“Savings during the first winter were absolutely phenomenal compared to previous years. In January 2007, savings were over 70% at each site compared to the same month in the base year of 2005,” states a very satisfied Jeff Monahan. Also, each site received ENERGY STAR® recognition with scores of 89 for Glenn and 87 for Oakdale. Eight other sites have also been rewarded with ENERGY STAR® status for energy-efficiency initiatives.

From 2005 through 2008, the Unit Five school district netted $2.9 million in energy cost savings due to the energy efficiency measures put in place. Square footage utility cost (electricity, gas and water) was reduced to $1.595 in FY 2008 from a base year cost (FY 2005) for all sites of $1.798. This measure is from 27 sites total, including warehouses. The figure for most schools costs is about $2.

To curb energy costs, the district employed saving techniques learned through BOC training and Energy Education. As BOC training espouses, detailed data has been kept to clearly demonstrate the results of techniques used and to track improvements going forward. New Maintenance Supervisor Doug Johnson has begun the current BOC training locally, with the goal of continuing the improvement process, and this growing district is looking forward to further positive results in energy and cost savings.