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How School District Cut 62 Percent in Energy Spending

Nov. 29, 2018

Improvements include a wood-burning biomass boiler and solar-paneled carport canopies in the parking lots. Now, the district can expect to reduce its energy spending by 62 percent.

What if you could cut your energy spending by more than half? And, in turn, your savings could pay for the facilities upgrades needed to create them? This is what’s on track to happen at Dighton Rehoboth Regional School District (DRRSD) in Massachusetts.

The district comprises five buildings: a high school, two middle schools and two elementary schools. By the end of 2018, these buildings have undergone and completed a 3-year districtwide energy upgrade project—one that will reduce their cumulative energy spending by 62 percent.

(Photo: All of the upgrades will result in 62 percent energy savings for the entire school district. Credit: Trane)

“In a quick conversation with the facility director and business manager, we found out they basically had—like what a lot of public schools have—was limited capital and aging infrastructure,” says Leo McNeil, regional director of comprehensive solutions at Trane, an HVAC systems and controls manufacturer.

Through performance contracting, Trane was able to guide DRRSD through a comprehensive facilities upgrade, which means a single provider develops, designs and implements facility improvements to be paid in whole or in part through guaranteed energy savings.

(Photo: The solar carports allow the district to produce 75 percent of the electricity it uses to function each year. Credit: Trane)

“[The district] would replace a boiler whenever they could come up with the money to do it; it was a piecemeal approach,” McNeil adds. “It didn’t produce the results that the district ultimately wanted, which was a good, comfortable and efficient learning environment.”

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To create the correct environment, Trane first conducted an audit on the existing buildings. The areas that needed the biggest improvements were:

  • HVAC systems and control systems
  • Boilers
  • Classroom unit ventilators
  • Windows
  • Roofs
  • Electrical systems
“The level of our facilities—we were in dire straits,” says Catherine Antonellis, business manager of DRRSD. “Much of our five buildings did not have any compatible equipment. Each operating system was operating with different boilers. We had HVAC problems.”

(Photo: The biomass boiler that heats a majority of the high school runs on wood chips, or wood fuel, which is half the cost of oil. Credit: Trane)

Now, the five buildings are operating efficiently with things like a biomass boiler, solar-paneled carports and new roofs and windows.

“You take a look at the buildings now, in addition to being more efficient, it’s a significant aesthetic upgrade,” says Chris Marshall, comprehensive solutions general manager at Trane.

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Selected upgrades includes:

  • Insulated thermal windows: “They make the building feel better since they leak less air and heat,” Marshall explains. The old windows had foggy glass and corroded aluminum frames.
  • New roofs for two schools
  • Digital building automation system
  • New HVAC equipment: Including rooftop units and 128 classroom unit ventilators
  • A biomass boiler: In the high school, a biomass boiler uses wood chips instead of oil to heat a majority of the facility as opposed to oil. “Wood fuel costs less than half of oil,” McNeil says. “There’s also the environmental benefits, since it’s considered a carbon-neutral fuel.”
  • Solar PV system: A 1.2-megwatt solar PV system was installed via carport canopies in the parking lots of the five schools. The district now makes 75 percent of the electricity it needs to function each year. Each carport is also lit with LED lights at night, which creates a better sense of safety.

A building management system from Trane also provides the district’s facilities managers with a wide view of the buildings for daily operations, troubleshooting and energy management. They can access systems remotely using a mobile device to address comfort issues, make scheduled changes, adjust set points and manage alarms.

(Photo: At night, LED lights underneath the solar panels illuminate the parking lots, creating a better sense of safety. Credit: Trane)

The results include fewer hot/cold calls and improved indoor air quality.

The students can get involved as well. The lobbies of each of the five schools are equipped with flat-screen TV monitors that display real-time solar generation data.

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“It shows what’s being produced at that school and districtwide, and how that equates to trees, cars off the road, that sort of thing,” Marshall explains. “Each screen is geared toward the age group that it’s in. So an elementary school obviously has a different level of presentation than the high school.”

Students have even created scale models of the solar panels. “There’s a lot of community engagement there,” Marshall continues. “That K-12 sector, they really do want to make our projects part of the curriculum and overall community.”

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About the Author

Sarah Kloepple | Associate Editor

Sarah joined the BUILDINGS team as an associate editor in August 2018. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, where her focus was magazine writing. She's written and edited for numerous publications in her hometown of St. Louis.

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