Greenspace: Winona school learning lessons in energy conservation

What happens when you put a lesson into action? It means you're practicing what you preach. That's what's happened at Jefferson Elementary School in Winona.

With the help of a small grant to the Winona Area Public Schools from the Minnesota Clean Energy Resource Teams, Jefferson upgraded its vintage (pre-World War II — how's that for a history lesson — heating system in 2012 to an efficient, state-of-the-art system that has reduced costs, reduced the school's carbon footprint, and increased comfort for students and staff.

"In the past, each classroom had a pneumatic thermostat," said Bill O'Laughlin, director of buildings and grounds for the school. "We're going to have DCV (Demand Controlled Ventilation) controls and monitors in every classroom. It's a lot more defined and allows us to target use."

The plan, O'Laughlin said, was to replace the 1933 boiler with a new energy-efficient one, and replace those old pneumatic monitors in each room with electronic monitors that feed information to a central computer that can open and close ducts to send hot or cold air to just the right spots.

For example, O'Laughlin said, if there is a meeting going on in one room of the building at night, the controls can be set to monitor and adjust the temperature for that one room only. A game in the gymnasium doesn't mean you have to heat a third-grade classroom as well.


"We've saved a considerable amount of money," O'Laughlin said. "That even factors in the costs."

The new controls are just part of an overall effort to turn Jefferson into an energy-efficient and money-saving school, O'Laughlin said. Since the school began adding Green components in 2005, the school has saved a whopping $1,898,049 in energy costs, mostly in electrical charges. "That's about 25 percent of our cost over that period," he said.

Aside from the new equipment, O'Laughlin said, there have been behavioral changes at the school that have reduced energy consumption, too. For example, the school adopted four-day work weeks in the summer. That means three days of not having to heat or cool every room in the building.

The energy savings have translated into lessons that everyone at the school can understand. It means 16,191 metric tons of carbon dioxide was saved — that's the equivalent of 2,906 cars off the streets or more than 414,000 seedlings planted and grown over 10 years.

The school added a few solar panels this year. One generated 4.5 megawatt hours and the other generated 2.7 megawatt hours — that's the equivalent of planting 13 trees or sparing the environment 1,077 pounds of carbon, O'Laughlin said.

"The goal is for them (the solar panels) to pay for themselves," he said.

Best of all, though, is that all this energy savings and energy production is used as part of the school's environmental curriculum. One of the final phases of the upgrade will be to put an energy "dashboard" on the school's website so everyone can monitor the savings.

"We want to let people go in and see what we're doing with offsetting energy usage," O'Laughlin said.

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