Schools save money with green effort
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Dec 23, 2013, 09:23
BRIAN CAPALDO/HOPEWELL SCHOOLS Tim Dunn preparing his Professor Kilowatt reminder notes before going to do a school inspection.
HOPEWELL — Since 2003, Hopewell City Public Schools have avoided paying the utility companies over $3 million. This is due in part to the division’s participation in Virginia’s Go Green Initiative as well as Tim Dunn, the school system’s energy manager, who spends hours walking the hallways of the schools on a regular basis to make sure energy is being conserved in every way possible.
Hopewell schools began participation in the initiative in 2003. The initiative, which is voluntary and part of Virginia’s Municipal League, was created to help promote environmental policies and actions that help reduce the use of energy. It is also used as an educational tool for not only children but parents and the community as well.
On Nov. 21, the Hopewell School Board accepted first place, in schools with student population under 5,000, in the Virginia School Boards Association’s Go Green Challenge. HCPS was one of nine divisions in the state that was selected from among 40 entries.
“It recognizes the community’s need to take innovate steps to reduce energy usage and promote sustainability,” Dunn said. “So whatever we can do to reduce our energy consumption and keep it going on as part of this ongoing program, that’s what we’re after.”
Dunn said the program is being implemented in more than 1,900 school systems.
As part of the implementation of the initiative, Dunn walks the hallways of each and every building in the division with a questionnaire, provided as part of the program, and his own checklist, to make sure lights are turned off, computers are off when not in use, faucets are off and Dunn even checks closets.
“Ninety percent of my work is done after hours, nights, weekends, holidays,” Dunn said. “I prefer buildings to be pitch black. I walk through the hallways with a flashlight.”
His meticulous work has paid off, because not only has the division become a greener school system but the city has saved money in terms of energy bills. For instance, Dunn said bills at Hopewell High School used to be over $30,000 a month and have been reduced to $20,000.
As part of the high school’s over $24 million renovation, a geothermal system was installed. This is a system of wells that are equipped with shafts that have liquid in them. The ground’s temperature conditions the water so when it comes back up through the shafts, the energy can be extracted out of the water to heat or cool the building.
Energy usage across the division has been reduced by 31.56 percent. Before the program really got up off the ground, energy usage was reduced to between 18 and 22 percent.
The presence of energy conservation and environmentally driven practices were already in place before Dunn came to the school system five years ago. He said there was a recycling program and Earth Science teachers at the high school were teaching environmental concerns.
Last year, the division entered into a performance contract with Siemens, an electrical and electronics engineering company.
The performance contract allowed for the company to come in and transform schools, with budgets that could not handle the funds for upgrades, into more energy efficient buildings.
Dunn said lighting was upgraded, HVAC units were replaced, new windows were put in, and plumbing fixtures were also replaced.
Dunn said this program just takes it one step further.
“First and most important is I try to change people’s behavior,” Dunn said. “It’s a behavioral modification plan that we’re implementing. If I can get people to think about saving energy and what can I do to save energy ... so it’s not me that’s doing it. It’s them. They’re the ones that support this program.”
When Dunn joined the division several years back, he did not quite have a grasp on the energy conservation initiative. He admitted he was not as involved in the green effort. Once Dunn went though the training program and learned more about environmental conservation efforts and energy savings, the more passionate he became.
“We live in a house. Do we want to live in a dirty house or a clean house?” Dunn said. “And I think a lot of us chose to live in a clean and orderly house. The environment is the same thing. It’s our home. We can take care of it or we can not take care of it.”
Dunn, who said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the award, is not only focused on reducing the energy usage across the division, but he wants to increase the education among the students in the classrooms. He also said as long as the questionnaire will continue to be sent to the division, he will continue to participate in the program.
“Kids are into everything and they’re really in tuned into issues that we face so they start learning about it,” Dunn said. “They take that information, and their excitement, home and they are applying it at home and they start talking about the program or about saving energy with their parents and it’s spreading into the community and that’s one of the ways it benefits the community. It educates everyone to the need of conserving energy.”