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Grants allow SKSD to grow more energy efficient

Energy conservation has long been a priority among South Kitsap School District officials.Director of facilities and operations Tom O’Brien said SKSD now will be able to accomplish even more in that realm as last week it was awarded a $204,588 grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. O’Brien said the district also is anticipating a $99,220 grant from Puget Sound Energy soon.Couple those grants with $163,000 SKSD is using in energy savings from previous projects and O’Brien anticipates making more than a $400,000 investment in the district’s infrastructure. Those projects include replacing the control ventilation in the gymnasiums and commons areas at Hidden Creek and Sidney Glen elementary schools and Cedar Heights Junior High. Instead of having those systems running nonstop, O’Brien said sensors will detect whether people are in rooms.“It won’t pump fresh air into rooms without people,” he said.In addition to that, O’Brien said there will be a “major modification” to the heating and cooling plant that was installed in the late 1970s at Marcus Whitman Junior High, and the cooling unit at SKSD’s central kitchen, which was installed during the 1940s, will be replaced with a walk-in cooler. He said the district also will finish replacing the remaining T12 fluorescent light bulbs — a project that began in 2000 — with T8’s in the parking lots and portables where they remain.O’Brien said all of those projects are projected to save the district $34,000 this year, and as energy costs increase, that estimate increases to more than $45,000 in 2032. He said those estimates are guaranteed by energy service contractors and the savings are confirmed through state audits. If projected savings fall short, O’Brien said the service contractors are obligated to pay the difference.“They’re pretty good about what they do,” he said.O’Brien said SKSD’s last levy failure in 2000 was the impetus for looking at energy-conservation projects because district officials examined budget-savings measures. The first project occurred that year when the district installed a heat-recovery chiller at the South Kitsap Pool. O’Brien said that project worked in similar fashion to an air-conditioning unit, where cool air is emitted into a room while hot air is streamed outside. He said the unit at the pool chills the air and pumps the “wasted” hot air into the pool. O’Brien said that project, which cost $265,000, saved SKSD $93,000 during the first year it was in service. The unit essentially paid for itself within three years.District officials since then have evaluated several projects to determine where else money could be saved through energy efficiencies. Among those projects was replacing the lighting system in the high-school gym. The previous system required 15 minutes for lights to fully illuminate — or go dark. The current system runs on sensors that do not require coaches and players to flip the lights as they enter or exit.O’Brien said most of those projects had to be evaluated on how much money SKSD could save because they were bonded by the state treasurer and needed to be paid back within 7 to 10 years to be financially viable. He said that is the reason why some of the T12 bulbs were not replaced a dozen years ago. But now that those fluorescent lights are being phased out of production, O’Brien said it makes sense to replace them. Also, because the district is paying for the project through its own savings and grant money, he said the energy-conservation aspect of replacing those bulbs is not as significant.SKSD faced a $6.5 million deficit for this school year after cutting $18.3 million the previous five years. Because of those budget challenges, O’Brien said the grants have been beneficial.“Financially, it has been tough for school districts the last few years,” he said. “These are among the only improvements to infrastructure we’ve seen.”Because the district is not borrowing money for its latest round of projects, O’Brien said all of the money it saves will “go to SKSD’s bottom line.”

 

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