How one school district solved a critical problem (and saved money too)

Thu, 2016-09-22 14:31 -- Doug Peeples

Schools dependent on state funding often find themselves in the same position as cities: critical projects that need to be done, but little money to do them. Rather than try to wait out a state budget impasse, the Keystone Oaks School District in Pittsburgh chose to work with Council Lead Partner Schneider Electric and invest in a sorely needed HVAC system upgrade. Details are in the story below. It includes ideas other cities and school districts may want to consider and an unstated lesson: With careful planning and the help of an experienced partner, sometimes what seems like a counter-intuitive approach is the best one. — Doug Peeples

Nine months into a statewide budget stall may not seem like the best time for a school district – even one not in immediate danger of school closures – to invest $3.4 million in a major infrastructure upgrade. But that's exactly what the Keystone Oaks district did.

Four schools were in bad shape. Their HVAC systems frequently failed, which very uncomfortable  temperature fluctuations in several classrooms and a lot of complaints. There also were maintenance problems with the old equipment and control systems. And the budget impasse meant no funding for capital improvements.

How the district came out ahead
District officials worked with Schneider Electric on an energy efficiency upgrade which included  servicing for the HVAC system and the installation of new building automation systems. As the new school year begins, teachers can now control temperatures in individual classrooms and the district doesn't waste money on heating and cooling unused rooms.

In addition to making classrooms dramatically more comfortable, the upgrade will cut the district's annual energy and maintenance costs by $106,000 annually. Even better: part of the project was paid for by an energy savings performance contract which allows utility and operational savings to pay for renovations.

There are also environmental and sustainability benefits. By improving system efficiency, the project will reduce carbon dioxide output by 452 metric tons.

"Our schools' leaders are committed to our district's financial stability, and this solution allowed us to make necessary improvements in a challenging financial environment," said district Superintendent William P. Stropkaj. "While many Pennsylvania school districts were struggling with unresolved state budgets and facing school closures, we wre able to reinvest in our buildings and improve our students' learning experience."

For more on energy efficiency...
The Energy chapter of the Smart Cities Readiness Guide offers background, best practices and other guidance on how smart energy technologies and systems can improve energy efficiency, reduce operating costs and promote livability.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.