McKinstry / Salem-Keizer Schools

Energy Conservation Article

The following article describes the energy conservation program at Salem-Keizer (Oregon) Public Schools. In May, 2006, I was hired to write this article by McKinstry, Inc., a Seattle-based mechanical construction contractor. In the past few years, the Portland, Oregon, branch of McKinstry has made numerous renovations with regards to energy efficiency to schools in the Salem-Keizer district. These renovations are described in the article.

I was hired for this project by Cameron Hamilton, the Business Development Manager at McKinstry's Portland branch. Cameron has worked closely with the Utilities Department at Salem-Keizer in making renovations to the schools. Cameron insisted that the purpose of this article should be to promote Salem-Keizer's energy conservation efforts -- not just the renovations made by McKinstry. Therefore, the article is written with a focus on Salem-Keizer's energy conservation program as a whole.

Before writing the article, I developed a two-page query describing the information to be presented in it. I researched education journals where the article could be placed for publication, and submitted the query to The American School Board Journal, a trade journal for school administrators. After an editor at ASBJ expressed interest in the submitted query, I began to write the article.

It was agreed early on that the article would be credited to Kay Baker, the then-retiring superintendent of Salem-Keizer Schools. In writing the article, I consulted with Kay and other administration officials who are involved in Salem-Keizer's energy conservation program.

This article was published in the March, 2007 issue of The American School Board Journal.



"Please Remember to Turn the Lights Off

When No One is in the Classroom"

By Kay Baker

Superintendent (Retired) of Salem-Keizer Public Schools

[Ghost-written by Robert Lindsay]

Students, teachers, staff, and administrators all play a part in utilities conservation at Salem-Keizer (Oregon) Public Schools.

Katie Litchfield and Reid Gammon are eighth-graders at Crossler Middle School in Salem, Oregon. On Wednesday mornings, they have a special duty. They are part of a team of students that visits empty classrooms in the school.

If they see that lights, computer monitors, or other electronic equipment in the classroom has been left on from the previous school day, the students leave a pink slip on the teacher's desk, or on the classroom door. On the pink slip is a note marking the equipment that has been left on: "Oops! Did you forget?   X    Lights          Computer Monitors       X   Printers          Other."

If lights, computer monitors, or other equipment has been turned off, the students leave a green slip, with a note saying: "Thank you for saving money and the environment."

Both notes are signed, "The Watt Watchers."

"Since I've been a Watt Watcher, I'm more aware now of how our school uses electricity, and if we are being careful or not," Katie reports.

"At first some of the teachers were kind of grumpy about us coming around, and now they aren't," says Reid. "Some teachers have made changes in how they do things with electricity in their classroom."

Thanks in part to the Watt Watchers' efforts, Crossler Middle School has greatly reduced its energy usage. The school's annual electricity usage in 2000-2001 was 852,971 kiloWatt hours. In 2005-2006, its annual electricity usage was 776,454 kilowatt hours -- a comparative savings (at a rate of $0.0793 per kWh) of $6067.80!

Currently, 52 schools in the Salem-Keizer School District participate in the "Watt Watchers" program. In some schools, a certain class (i.e. a certain 5th grade class in an elementary school) is chosen to serve as Watt Watchers for the school year. In other schools, the Watt Watchers team is made up of volunteer students from different classes and grade levels.

At the beginning of every year, the Watt Watchers receive training on how to do their classroom audits. They learn which electrical devices in the classrooms should be turned off when not in use, and how to check the classrooms unobtrusively. Throughout the year, the Watt Watchers make random inspections of classrooms in their schools. Audits are done during lunch or recess, or before or after school hours, weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the school.

With the gentle reminders provided by the Watt Watchers, energy awareness has become routine for many students and teachers in Salem-Keizer Schools. One teacher says, "Wow! Now my kids are reminding me to turn off the lights when we're not in the room!"


Making Energy Conservation A Priority

Salem-Keizer Public Schools is the second-largest school district in Oregon, with 38,961 students attending 69 school locations. Like most school systems in America, we have seen a dramatic increase in utility rates over the past five years. Our electrical rates have risen by 50%, and our natural gas rates have risen by more than 80%.

In 2000, I became superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools. Early in my tenure, I consulted with Ron DeWilde, our Director of Facilities, about utilities management. We anticipated the coming increase in utilities costs. A utilities conservation program had been started at Salem-Keizer in the early 1990's, but the program had been limited to participation by custodians and maintenance staff. Over time, active participation in the program had fallen off due to staff changes.

Before I came to Salem-Keizer, I had served as superintendent and assistant superintendent in two school districts -- Newton, Kansas, and Lee's Summit, Missouri -- with energy conservation programs that included both an education element and student-teacher participation in utilities conservation. I consulted with the Salem-Keizer school board, and we made the decision to revive and expand our existing energy conservation program. The new program would promote participation from everyone -- students, teachers, staff, and administrators. Our stated goals for the program would be to upgrade our facilities, reduce energy costs, and to promote better use of energy resources in our schools.


Student/Teacher Education and Participation

In 2002, we created a full-time position for a licensed teacher to serve as director of the student/teacher education and participation portion of our energy conservation program. We advertised internally for the position, and hired Kathleen Hill, an alternative education teacher from North Salem High School.

Using energy conservation programs at other school districts as a guide, Kathleen developed our Resource Efficiency Action Program (R.E.A.P.). This program is designed to educate Salem-Keizer's students and teachers about energy conservation issues, and to get them involved in efforts to conserve energy in their schools and elsewhere. The great success of the R.E.A.P. program is largely due to Kathleen's efforts.

As head of R.E.A.P., Kathleen Hill is responsible for recruiting and training students for the Watt Watchers programs. She is also in charge of creating a variety of education programs and activities designed to help Salem-Keizer students and teachers learn about and participate in energy conservation efforts. Her goal is to "energize" students and teachers so that they are more aware of how they impact utility resource use, and are more enthusiastic about resource conservation.

Throughout the year, Kathleen travels around the Salem-Keizer school district, presenting assembly programs and classroom presentations to students, on topics concerning energy production, monitoring, and conservation. Her lessons often include hands-on activities designed to help the students "learn by doing."

For example, in a classroom presentation about alternative energy sources, Kathleen shows the students how to make a solar oven using empty pizza boxes and aluminum foil. When the students have finished making their solar ovens, they take them outside and (assuming the sun is out), use them to cook S'mores.

"I have the best teaching job in the world," says Kathleen. "This job supports my personal philosophy that it is everyone's responsibility to use resources wisely. The students get so excited when they realize they have the power to make a difference that they bring the message home and to their community. It is life-changing - for them and for me."

Kathleen also serves as coordinator with local businesses to allow Salem-Keizer students to participate in numerous annual energy conservation events. These events include:

  • Salem Area Transit (Cherriots) Car-Free Day -- Salem Area Transit sponsors an annual day in which all Cherriots bus rides are fare-free. Salem-Keizer middle and high school students are invited to participate, and schools that take part receive $10,000 from Cherriots. Additional cash awards are given by Cherriots to the schools that take the most field trips that day.
  • Energy Awareness Day -- Held at the state capitol in Salem, this event features tours of the capitol building and exhibits on alternative energy sources for 4-12th grade students.
  • The Water Festival -- Held at the Salem Conference Center, this event sponsored by Salem Public Works features exhibits, educational games, and activities related to hydroelectric power, water conservation, and salmon conservation.

These special events have a surprising effect in energizing the students' interest about environmental subjects. Recently, Bethel Elementary School held a "Weird Science" Day, in which students were treated to special exhibits on watershed conservation, energy conservation, recycling, and indoor air quality. The students enjoyed the event so much that one third-grader remarked, "This was the best day of my entire life!"

At the end of the day, when school buses were loading, the Bethel students were still chatting with wild enthusiasm about the exhibits they had seen that day. One school bus driver asked a teacher, "What did you do today? Feed them liquid sugar?"

"No," the teacher replied, with a smile. "We fed them science."


Utilities Improvements

Custodial and maintenance workers are essential parts of Salem-Keizer's energy conservation program because of their hands-on role in building operations. As part of the program's revival in 2002, the responsibilities of custodial and maintenance workers in our utilities conservation efforts were further defined and made easier to understand.

Our energy conservation policy was amended to embrace all utility resources and to declare the district's commitment to conserving those resources. Additionally, the rules governing the policy were made much more specific and enforceable. For example, the policy previously made no mention as to how school buildings were to be operated. The rules were amended to include specific temperature setpoints for heating and cooling, operating procedures for lighting and computers, and responsibilities for staff and departments.

In addition, Salem-Keizer hired the Portland, Oregon, branch of McKinstry Co., the Pacific Northwest's leading mechanical construction contractor, to make utilities renovations that would help to make the schools more energy efficient. Nearly every school in the Salem-Keizer district has received some kind of utilities renovation under this agreement. These renovations have included:

Windows Replacements -- Single-pane metal-frame windows were replaced with energy-efficient, high-performance windows. This resulted in fewer hot and cold spots in the classrooms, better noise reduction from outside the walls, and better quality of lighting from outside.

Lighting Replacements -- Metal-halide lighting with 400-watt bulbs was replaced with electricity-saving high-output T-5 florescent fixtures. Motion sensors were installed to turn lighting off when gymnasiums are unoccupied.

Insulation -- McKinstry added new insulation to the attics of older schools to cut down on drafts and save heating costs.

Boilers -- Mini-boilers were installed in some schools to generate hot water during the warmer, non-heating months. Previously, these schools had to fire their large, heating boilers just to heat water - an inefficient use of natural gas in warm weather.

Demand-Based Ventilation -- Controls were installed in school ventilation systems to allow schools to bring in fresh air from outside only when it is needed. This reduces operating costs for the ventilation system, which does not have to run constantly to maintain indoor air quality in the school building.

It is important to note that these utilities improvements were made without spending taxpayer money. Instead, the improvements were financed by Oregon's SB-1149 Fund, a result of legislation (State Senate Bill 1149) that deregulated the state's investor-owned electrical utilities. This legislation sets aside a percentage of utility gross revenues for public purposes, such as low-income weatherization and conservation projects. Ten percent of these funds are earmarked to be used for energy-saving projects by public schools. Salem-Keizer was able to hire McKinstry Co. as an Energy-Performance Contractor to apply these funds toward energy-saving improvements to our schools.


The Key To Success

The key to the success of our energy conservation efforts lies in the co-operation of everyone involved in the R.E.A.P. Program The two sides of the program -- student/teacher participation and utilities management -- work together and depend on each other. Each would be a failure without the other in place.

Our student/teacher participation program would not have succeeded without utilities management's efforts to monitor its progress and provide it with guidance. After she was hired for the teaching position in 2002, Kathleen Hill worked closely with David Furr, our Utilities Coordinator, to develop the R.E.A.P. Program David provided the expertise in energy and utilities management that Kathleen needed to make the program effective.

Kathleen and David continue to work together to ensure the R.E.A.P. program's effectiveness. They regularly examine utility bills in order to record each school's performance and changes in utilities use. Kathleen also keeps track of the level of student/teacher participation for each school. This type of monitoring enables Kathleen and David to determine each school's success or failure in the program.

The R.E.A.P. Program is voluntary. Not all schools in the Salem-Keizer district participate in it. But we try to honor those schools that do participate, and provide incentives for them to continue to do so. For example, each school that participates in the program receives an annual $500 grant from the utilities department. Half of this money is paid to each school at the beginning of the school year, after they have fulfilled some preliminary utilities requirements.

Each school must then complete a series of energy conservation benchmarks and tasks throughout the school year. (For example, Watt Watcher audits must be done weekly or biweekly, and reports of the audits sent to Kathleen Hill.) The schools that complete these benchmarks receive the second half of their annual $500 grant in April. Almost all schools that participate complete the benchmarks and tasks. The utilities department is willing to pay the monetary incentives because they know that they will see utilities savings in the participating schools.


Making A Difference

In the past three years, student/teacher/staff participation in energy conservation efforts in our schools have resulted in an annual utility cost savings of $400,000 (out of a $5 million utility budget). In addition, we are now seeing annual savings of $150,000 to $175,000 thanks to the utilities improvements provided by McKinstry Co.

We see the greatest difference, however, in the change in attitude of our students. Thanks to our education and participation programs, they are developing energy conservation habits at school and at home, which we hope will last them a lifetime.

"I used to leave lights on at home," says Tyler Roofener, a seventh-grade Watt Watcher at Parrish Middle School. "Now I turn off lights because I see how much it saves. I turn off my fish tank light at night, and I go through the house and turn things off before I go to bed. My mom usually leaves on the computer and my brother leaves on lights, so I turn those off as well."

At Salem-Keizer, we hope that our students will carry over into the community what they have learned through the energy conservation program. We are starting to see evidence of this. Recently, when Kathleen Hill was at her doctor's office, a woman asked what she did for a living. When Kathleen told her, the woman said, "Oh, so you're the reason that my niece keeps telling me to turn out the lights!"

For more information about Salem-Keizer's Resource Efficiency Action Program, see our web site at


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY [Included with article]

As of July, 2006, Kay Baker has retired as Superintendent of Salem-Keizer School District, a position that she held for six years. Kay began her teaching career in 1969, teaching fifth grade at Stockton Public Schools, in Stockton, Kansas. During the past 36 years, she has taught in 11 school districts, served as Elementary Principal in three school districts, and held the position of Superintendent in two school districts. In 1999, she was awarded a Doctorate of Education from the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.



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