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Elementary remodel wraps up, energy savings starting to roll in


Erik LeDuc / Petersburg Pilot

Petersburg School District Maintenance Director Dan Tate stands by a new heating element to be installed in the high school boilers.

It has been a warm start to winter inside Petersburg Elementary schools, and the comfort and cost-saving benefits of the building's remodel continue to be realized as the first round of bills roll in well under budget as work wraps up on the building's renovation.

The project began in April of this year at a cost of $2.3 million. It was designed by Juneau architectural firm, Jensen Yorba Lott and installed by Alaska Community Contractors.

"They're in the final stages of the punch list for things that still need doing, such as touching up paint and a couple of classrooms where we're still adjusting the heat," Maintenance Director Dan Tate said.

Reporting first to the School Board, Tate cautioned that the early numbers had not gone through a full review and analysis - there could be a bill or two conceivably missing and power usage was not yet at normal, but, at first glance, the improved building seemed to be using 20 percent less power, comparing two months of recent usage to the same dates last year, and a staggeringly low amount a fuel ― compared year to year, the school only used 677 gallons of fuel, compared to 2013's total of 1,528 gallons, for a 56 percent reduction in cost.

"I find (the electricity bill) pretty significant, because the contractor was still in the building in August, running power saws and several other forms of high energy use," he said. "I would suspect our actual use, as the district, was quite a bit lower. Again, this is just a quick snapshot for one month, and we'll be establishing a baseline in the future. I think we're well on our way to major energy savings."

Tate credited the electrical reductions largely to the installation of intelligent LED lighting panels now installed in "every classroom, every office, with the exception of our hallways."

The LED panels, directed upwards to diffuse off the ceiling for a gentler, cleaner light not only operated off "a trickle of power," but are metered by photo-cells that adjust lighting to suit the room, dimming on sunny days near the window while amping up darker corners. The panels also featured some degree of an occupancy sensor, turning on and off as the classrooms fill and empty throughout the day.

"It's pretty much just plug and play in terms of maintenance," he said, gradually continuing the LED transition through the other schools as well. "I may not have to change another light bulb in my career. As we can afford them, I'm bringing in the more efficient LED lights."

As for the fuel bill, it's all a matter of insulation - sometimes even too much, he said, noting that some classrooms and the elementary library may require some venting to shed radiant heat coming from the nearby boiler room, which can rise to temperatures of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit when running.

By tearing out and replacing the "paper-thin walls" initially present with commercially standard and well-insulated walls, further shielded by heavy weather paneling and tri-paned windows, very little heat is allowed to escape the rooms, cutting furnace operation hours substantially. A fringe benefit found is the dampening of ambient noises - particularly road noise and chatter outside the school, he said. "There's six to eight inches of dead air space now."

Typically the rooms are kept somewhere in the range of 68 degrees, Tate said, adding that the entire system is electronically regulated and remotely adjustable to suit the individual needs and comforts of classes, should it vary from the norm.


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