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School district earns an ‘A’ for energy savings

If energy efficiency could be graded, Alexandria School District 206 would definitely earn an A.

After a host of energy improvements made to Discovery Middle School (DMS), the school’s energy use was cut by 45 percent.

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From 2010 to 2012, natural gas consumption decreased by 45 percent and electric use decreased 39 percent.

Compared to 2010 performance, the school district saved about $220,000 in 2011 and 2012, according to the state’s B3 Benchmark data.

“It’s a huge deal and certainly opened our eyes of the possibilities to cut expenditures and become more energy efficient in the process,” noted Trevor Peterson, District 206’s director of business services.

FOUR SCHOOLS GETENERGY STAR RATING The Minnesota Department of Commerce recently recognized District 206 for its energy efforts and announced four of the district’s 10 schools (Lincoln Elementary School, Discovery Middle School, Woodland Elementary School and Garfield Elementary School) have an ENERGY STAR rating above 75.

That rating indicates the facility performs better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide. The DMS improvements and success were recently spotlighted in the state’s Department of Commerce blog.

HOW DID THEY DO IT? Specifically, at DMS, energy efficiency improvements were made to lighting, entrance door replacement and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Peterson said the installation of a “shoulder season” high-efficiency boiler likely has the most impact.

“[DMS’s] main boiler system that provides heat to the school has much more capacity than is necessary during the spring and fall seasons when a little heat to take the edge off is all that is required. These boilers are either on or off, and having them run during these ‘shoulder’ times of the year is more wasteful than it needs to be.

“By installing modern, high efficiency boilers, the amount of energy necessary to heat during these times of the year is dramatically reduced and the large main boilers are saved for the more hearty times of Minnesota winters,” he said. DMS isn’t the only success story. Extensive upgrades were also made to Lincoln Elementary School; air quality improvements were the focus there.

“While the district is still seeing a slight decrease in energy costs at Lincoln Elementary, that project produced the most noticeable differences for the occupants, and we continue to hear the compliments about how much difference both of these projects made,” Peterson said.

FUNDING IMPROVEMENTS, REAL SAVINGS The school district received grant funding for lighting upgrades and building envelope improvements that provided the seed money to capitalize on broader energy savings measures, Peterson said.

“The bulk of the financing comes from the board approving a long-term debt structure with a mixture of levy funding and borrowing against the district’s deferred maintenance funding to repay over an extended period of time,” he explained.

“The district realizes that one of the most impactful energy saving opportunities lie in our public buildings. If we do things right, like we did with the renovations at Discovery and Lincoln, as well as the construction of sustainable buildings with Woodland and the new high school, there is the equivalent of many power plants worth of energy savings that can be realized by making improvements to these buildings.”

For example, the lighting and entrance door upgrades at DMS cost about $116,000; those improvements are reportedly projected to pay for themselves via energy savings in about seven years.

LOOKING AHEAD Peterson said, “We feel there is potential for more extensive work at various buildings next summer, but we are still processing those ideas to see if that becomes reality or not.”

The DMS energy improvement project is reportedly part of a larger goal of the district to recognize there is a responsibility to upgrade and maintain existing district buildings.

Peterson said, “We owe it to the residents that support the district to get the most useful life out of our assets and operate them in the most energy efficient manner.”

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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