School districts use stimulus dollars to hire energy managers

jwarren@herald-leader.comJuly 7, 2010 

With 92-degree heat pushing up electrical demand, officials from Kentucky school districts met in Lexington Wednesday afternoon to start working on ways to help their schools cut energy costs.

The session opened three days of orientation and training for 35 newly hired school energy managers who will be charged with helping up to 130 Kentucky public school districts use energy more efficiently, and incorporate energy conservation into student curriculums. The effort could reach more than 1,000 schools, officials said.

The energy managers — most of whom are starting work this week — were hired with federal economic stimulus dollars funneled through the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence.

Some of the managers will work for individual districts, but most will work with multiple districts. Officials hope school districts will continue the effort after the initial $2.5 million in federal funds runs out in two years.

John Davies, state deputy commissioner of energy development and independence, said the program will allow Kentucky to manage school energy use on a comprehensive basis for the first time.

The need is critical, Davies said. He noted that Kentucky schools paid about $183 million to transport, heat, cool and provide lighting for students in 2008, about $93 million more than in 2000. Overall, he said, the state's schools now spend about $272 per student, per year on energy needs.

The Fayette County Public Schools have hired two energy managers: Britney Thompson, a mechanical engineer who will develop ideas for more efficient energy use across the district; and Tresine Logsdon, a former Henry Clay High School science teacher who will focus on including energy in curriculums throughout the county schools.

Thompson said energy-saving efforts probably would focus on simple steps first, such as updating lighting systems or developing policies to limit the amount of time buses spend idling while loading or unloading students at schools.

"There are a lot fairly easy things we could do up front, and more things we could change as we go along," she said. "I'm sure I'll be working with school maintenance directors. The school janitors will be key ... because they really know what is going on in their schools."

Meanwhile, Logsdon said several student programs she used as sponsor of Henry Clay's Green and Healthy Schools initiatives could be used across the Fayette district to get students more involved in energy conservation.

One Henry Clay conservation effort involved installing programming to shut down school computers when they were not needed, she said.

"A big part of what students can do is raise awareness and create habit and culture change," Logsdon said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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