District trying to cut utility use

For the past three years, Ashland School District has been examining every boiler, computer and window on its campuses to find ways to reduce utility use — and save money.

The district hopes its conservation efforts will offset expected rate increases, preventing the district from further dipping into its general fund to pay for heating, electricity and water use at schools.

"We will continue to work on energy/water savings as long as it is cost effective," Jill Turner, the district's business manager said in an e-mail message. "We can always do more."

The cash-strapped district expects to face a $1.3 million budget shortfall for next academic year, and is trying to cut costs wherever it can, she said.

This week Turner presented the School Board with a detailed report of steps the district has taken or plans to take to reduce utility consumption.

So far, the district has replaced aging boilers with energy-efficient models and has hooked the boilers to electronic software that monitors run times. The district has also installed better windows to keep heat from escaping.

District maintenance workers are considering installing additional boiler improvements and software that would shut off idle computers at the end of the day, Turner said.

The conservation steps have already resulted in lower gas and water consumption, but Turner said she hasn't yet calculated how much money the district has saved. "We have not yet estimated our savings," she said. "Our overall goal is that our total utility costs do not increase."

According to the report Turner presented to the board, the district spent $260,000 on natural gas bills during the 2009-10 school year, about $40,000 less than in the 2007-08 school year. The district is on track to lower its natural gas costs even further this year, according to the report.

During the 2008-09 academic year, the district spent only $215,000 on natural gas bills because the Bellview campus was closed as it underwent renovations.

The district's water usage has also decreased significantly each year since the 2006-07 school year, according to the report. Maintenance crews have fixed many broken water heads, replaced leaking water lines and installed weather station controls to limit unnecessary water use.

The district began the project in 2008 and will continue it for as long as there are economically viable steps to take, Turner said.

The project has also resulted in fewer complaints from students and teachers about heating problems, "which means students and employees are in a more comfortable learning environment," she said.

Students and teachers are helping with the initiative by shutting off lights and computers that aren't in use. The district has also installed a few automated light controls, including some at Bellview Elementary School that shut off lights when there's no movement in the classroom.

"We are much more informed around our usage and trying to use our precious resources wisely," Turner said.

District officials have also benefited from better temperature controls, she said.

"My office is more comfortable than in the past after we installed programmable thermostats," Turner said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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