Green push pays for Modesto schools

Team efforts at saving energy and water help cut costs

10/19/2011 1:09 AM

10/19/2011 1:46 AM

Turning off lights and giving up 2 degrees of comfort earned Sonoma Elementary $5,556.69.

Modesto City Schools started a savings-sharing program with schools in January giving teachers and principals a tangible reward for energy conservation.

The districtwide results are in: $247,602.77 saved; $94,905.56 shared.

"We wanted to give them that buy-in to be a part of the solution. It's the first time we've really tried it, and it works," said Dennis Snelling, director of business services.

A district chart of use and savings shows the biggest energy users were also the most successful savers.

Johansen High School, with its Olympic-sized pool, saved the district nearly $47,000, earning itself a $15,400 rebate. Next was Enochs High, saving more than $34,000.

Among the junior high campuses, Mark Twain topped the list, saving nearly $8,000. Sonoma conserved the most among elementary schools, helping the district save more than $11,000 over the same period last year. Rose Avenue was the next highest, saving a little less than $11,000.

At Sonoma, where clusters of open classrooms are arranged like flower petals, cooling and heating is a communal affair. The school also supports a physical therapy unit for students with disabilities that includes a small, heated pool.

Head custodian Mark Herman said thermostats were set 2 degrees warmer in the summer and 2 degrees cooler in winter. The therapy pool is a balmy 93 degrees instead of 95.

"It needs to be over 90 degrees to work for them," Herman said.

Parking lot lights are on a timer, and he makes sure all the other lights are doused before he leaves at night. When he comes in at 6 a.m., he just turns on one main hall light and teachers turn on their own computers and room lights as they arrive, Herman said.

"The teachers have done really well," he said.

Assistant Principal Chanda Bates said being consistent in temperature control and "just making sure everything is off," were the biggest changes for the school.

Fifth-grade teacher Barry Courtney said the changes have become second nature.

"It's not a problem," he said. "There are times we've let them know it's a little warm -- it's always an issue with this building being so open."

Sonoma's conservation dedication was honored Friday at an Earth-friendly assembly

put on by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts, and the city of Modesto.

Between games of tossing a big Earth balloon ball and displaying a heat sensor's view of waving youngsters came the serious messages of saving energy and not wasting water.

Each elementary school is hosting one of "The Conservation Equation" assemblies, which wrap up with a big "check" for the school's energy savings handed over by Dexter the TID duck and Splasher the MID frog.

Kids watching learn a 10-minute shower uses 50 gallons of water, 20 percent of homes' electric use is for electronics, and anything plugged in, even while it's off, still uses energy.

The programs expand the conservation message the TID and the MID hope will reach into homes and create a next generation of frugal resource users, said TID spokesman Herb Smart. The presentations, he said, "teach children the importance of water and electrical conservation."

The message dovetails with efforts to save schools money wherever possible and a statewide effort to bring environmental education and green technology to schools.

On Monday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will speak at the Green California Schools Summit in Pasadena. Torlakson's Schools of the Future initiative includes efforts to build more energy- efficient schools.

As summit organizers point out, "One out of five Americans spends the day in a school building."

Progress on the state's coming environmental curriculum also will be on the summit agenda.

The state's Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency collaborated on materials that span all grades and are aligned to science, history and English standards. The eco-lessons are being reviewed with teachers for classroom use, according to the California EPA.

Thanks to the TID and the MID, however, Modesto students are already on board.

On the Net:

The Education and the Environment Initiative:;

The Green California Schools Summit:;

Green technology and schools:

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339.

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