Coal Ridge High School is competing with teams from nearly 250 buildings nationwide to see how much energy they can save.
The EPA's ENERGY STAR Battle of the Buildings Contest has just reached its midpoint. Monday an article in the New York Times featured Coal Ridge and referred to the school as a leading contender in the contest.
"Basically, we are all about becoming the biggest loser in our energy consumption," Theresa Hamilton, Director of District-wide Services for Garfield Rd-2 School District explains.
The competition started in September of 2010. Since then, staff and students at Coal Ridge have been looking for every possible way to cut down on energy usage. From big things like making sure boilers work efficiently to simply turning out the lights.
"(We) installed occupancy sensors in all classrooms and offices which turn off all the lights in those areas after no movement is detected for a certain length of time," Re-2 School District Director of Facilities, Craig Jay says.
They also replaced old lights in gymnasiums around the district with new, occupancy censored lights to reduce energy consumption. Rebates are helping to pay for these new lights.
Other work included preforming an energy audit of the building's mechanical systems and taking out extra light bulbs in areas where lighting could be safely minimized.
The school also installed interval data reporting meters to monitor the building's energy use 24/7. The monitors give staff daily energy use reports and can help them spot potential waste.
"If there's anything consuming energy outside of the normal, you can see that usage and go track it down and do some digging to find out why that energy spoke happened and then resolve it," Jay say.
The school's successful use of interval meters is one topic highlighted in the New York Times article.
"It's great to see Coal Ridge High School under a New York Times banner for something so tremendous," Hamilton says.
Students are embracing this project. Some formed a group called "The Green Ninjas".
"They go around and they model good energy saving practices. Anything from withdrawing a plug from the wall to turning off one of two lights in a classroom," Teacher Jennifer Morandi explains.
She says the students also helped organize two events called "Operation Shut Down" during which all non-essential power in the school was turned off for an hour. The first event was a success so the second time around students tried to get members of the community involved.
"We were able to go into the community, solicit members of the community, offer contracts to the community, asking will you just turn off non-essential items for one hour of the day? A lot of community members did it for the whole day, not just the hour," Morandi says.
She adds that the excitement from students, the parents and the community is really inspiring.
"We are in an energy development region and we are a small rural high school that is taking a leadership role in energy conservation."
Hard work at Coal Ridge and other Garfield Re-2 schools is paying off.
"For the first three quarters of the school year the district has reduced their consumption by 1.1 million kilowatts. For therms, we have reduced our therm consumption by 77,527 therms for a total savings of $168,000 for the first three quarters," Jay explains.
As the competition reaches its halfway point, Coal Ridge is in the middle of the pack. The school is facing competition from all sorts of other buildings including parking garages, stores, churches, hospitals and other schools. Whether they win or not, staff say they've got a lot to be proud of.
"We've done some great things here at Coal Ridge High School. Between "Operation Shutdown" and saving seventy-eight percent energy consumption in an hour to the 20% overall savings through May," Hamilton says.
According to the EPA, the competitors have combined to save more than $3.7 million on utility bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity used by 2,300 homes annually.
Although the contest ends at the end of August, data has only been recorded and evaluated by the EPA for all competitors through February 2011. That is why the contest is only considered to be at its halfway point. The winners will be announced in November.