Danville custodian helps district cut back on utility costs
DANVILLE – For the last eight months, custodian Jack Harrier has been teaching Danville schools staff the ABCs of energy conservation.
His lessons already are paying off.
In the first three months alone, conservation efforts have saved $35,000 in utility expenses. That's money that will be put toward other educational resources.
"That's why we call him Cut-Back Jack," buildings and grounds Director George Schildt said of Harrier. He said the three-month savings could put another teacher in a classroom.
"That's the goal of the program," he said. "It allows us to place dollars back to direct instruction and things like that. That's where we need to put our dollars – educating kids."
The district manages roughly 1.5 million square feet in 14 buildings, and utilities are one of its largest nonpersonnel expenses. This year, gas and electric costs alone are budgeted at about $1.44 million.
To combat rising costs, the district joined forces with Energy Education Inc. to design a customized energy-saving program. It signed a seven-year contract that costs $100,000 a year in the first four years. The Wichita Falls, Texas-based firm believes it will save the district $1.9 million in seven years. If that amount is less than the district's cost, the firm will make up the difference.
The district launched the program in January with Harrier at the helm. The 52-year-old Danville man works full time as South View Middle School's head custodian, but welcomed the chance to be the district's energy education manager, even though it demanded another 20 hours each week.
"I knew I'd be out meeting people," said Harrier, who spends as much as 40 hours a week on the job. He also wanted a chance to address problems he noticed.
For example, lights in South View's commons stayed on from early Monday morning to late Friday night. Computers were turned on at 6:30 a.m. and shut down at 9 p.m. In winter, the thermostat was left at 72 to 74 degrees when no one was around.
Harrier asked staff districtwide to start turning off lights, computers, printers and copy machines when not in use. Now cafeteria lights stay on a few hours a day, and computers are shut off by 4 or 5 p.m.
"That's $2,000 easy," he said of running the lights. "For every 200 computers that were left on for 180 days, that's $10,100."
Harrier also got staff to turn off air conditioners when leaving and keep doors to their rooms closed when they're on. He got them to turn off or unplug water fountains that aren't in use in the summer or over breaks. He put setbacks on thermostats so that the temperature is turned down to 60 degrees in winter. He also trained custodians to thoroughly clean motors, coils, air filters, water filters and other mechanical devices.
"When they're clean, they don't have to work as hard, and it won't use as much energy," he said. "You save money. You're talking $55,000 to $60,000 a year."
In addition, Harrier and Schildt have taken energy-saving steps beyond the program. For example, they began evaluating lighting retrofits in all buildings, and pursuing grants to pay for upgrades. They also began evaluating temperature control systems in all buildings.
They installed electric flush values in toilets and urinals at 103-year-old Garfield Elementary. Now the water only runs after a flush, rather than continuously. "We'll look at all of those types of systems as we continue to address our buildings," Schildt said.
Though Schildt and other administrators credit Harrier with much of the program's success, he's quick to share it with the district's entire staff. "Your big players are the custodians," he said, calling them "the last line of defense. When everybody leaves, they're still here. Everyone has been supportive. It's got to be a team effort because everyone uses energy."
"It's not a 'You will,'" Schildt added. "It's 'Will you help?' As people buy into that, it grows like a snowball. We all become energy conservationists."
He added the program has not affected comfort. "We don't make them too hot or too cold," he said. "They're comfortable. Most people haven't really noticed a big change."
Harrier sends e-mails and posts signs to keep staffers conservation-minded.
One reads, "The ABCs of Conservation: Always turn off lights, fans, printers when leaving; Believe one person can make a difference; Conservation is everyone's job." Others say, "Teachers who conserve deserve an A+" and "We teach our students to do their part for the environment; do we educators walk our talk?"
"They just came to me," Harrier said, smiling and shrugging his shoulders.
After he's done at South View, Harrier makes the rounds at other buildings – often in the middle of the night. If everything is quiet, he's happy "because nothing's running, and we're not spending money." But if he finds something that needs addressed – say an exhaust fan left on in a kitchen – he leaves his business card with an "Oops!" stamped in red ink on the back.
"They get a kick out of that," Harrier said with a laugh. "We're not out to make anyone mad."
Harrier is out to save the district $1 million in the four years. "I'm going to the (school) board in September to show them how much we've saved," he said. "I think they'll be surprised."