When Idaho officials decided to spend Recovery Act money to make their school buildings more energy efficient, it set off a chain reaction. Now, the project is creating more comfortable and safe learning environments for its students and providing them with examples of how to save energy. At the same time, it’s saving taxpayers some dough.
The Idaho K-12 School Efficiency Project increases energy efficiency while saving precious education dollars, says schools superintendant Tom Luna. “It also provides a great opportunity for schools to incorporate lessons about energy education in the classroom,” he says.
One example comes from Van Buren Elementary School, where teachers use their newly constructed school as an education tool for kindergarteners through eighth graders. Each student receives 10 hours of classroom lessons annually devoted to saving energy, says Jennifer Swindell, the district’s public information officer. Science teachers coordinate lesson plans to teach the kids about a range of topics related to the school’s construction, from the new carpet made of recycled materials to how the roof maximizes solar energy.
“Young children love science, and when they can actually see it in use, they get really excited,” Jennifer says. “There are all of these hands-on things, like each classroom has recycle bins, so we’re making recycling a common practice.”
Many of the kids know more about energy efficiency than their parents and they’re teaching the older generation about it at home, Jennifer says.
The school’s lower energy bills have also eased pressure during the economic downturn.
“The lower energy costs are amazing because we’re saving energy in a small community that has a high unemployment rate,” she says. “Yet, the community passed a bond to build this school on the promise we would save money.”
Idaho’s Office of Energy Resources will spend $17.5 million in stimulus funds to make public schools more energy efficient. The K-12 School Efficiency Project will result in retrofits for all 703 school buildings in Idaho, including improvements such as new heating and cooling systems.
The Homedale School District’s upgrades were completed in August. Its savings will positively impact students, allowing money to be used for more retrofits, classroom supplies and textbooks, superintendant Tim Rosandick says. The upgrades already in place will save an estimated $13,750 per year, meaning the district will profit from the roughly $16,000 in upgrades in less than two years. The district wouldn’t have had a choice other than to pay the increasing energy costs had it not performed the tune-ups to its buildings, Tim says.
“It’s difficult to predict where we would’ve had to cut,” he says, “but it’s common sense that a cost savings anywhere means you have more resources to allocate.”
The state estimates its statewide school energy efficiency upgrades will create about 250 new jobs in Idaho during the next three years.