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District uses state grant to save energy

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

HOUSTON -- Houston public schools received a $20,000 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant for the past school year to study ways it can save energy, save resources and teach students to be better at both when they grow older. The district was one of three in the state to get a grant.

The district, with two buildings here, brought in experts but also used its own staff for easy-to-use ideas. The project leader was director of community education Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer, who has since retired. Rick Bartz, elementary principal, was also a leader.

What did you do to get the award?

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They heard about it and decided "it's the right thing to do, let's take the opportunity and do it," Frauenkron Bayer said.

They knew there were things they could do, but like other schools didn't have money or time to do them properly.

What did you do?

They inventoried both schools for their energy use, their use of chemicals for labs or cleaning and other environmental factors.

Some key actions they took include:

Replaced old fluorescent bulbs and ballast with smaller, more efficient ones.

Replaced the old water heater and turned it down to 120 degrees.

Used natural lighting in the elementary gym much of the time.

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Instead of one janitor turning on all the lights at 5 a.m., had the staff turn on lights as needed at 7:30 a.m. or later.

Put energy misers on middle/high school vending machines so they switch on only when someone is around.

Dropped room temperatures to 69 degrees, though teachers can increase them if needed.

Switched to cleaners that are nontoxic or less toxic. A new safer cleaner/finish for gym floors dries in hours instead of days.

Put out recycling containers for fibers, such as cardboard or paper, and hard items like aluminum and glass.

Installed special filters on bus mufflers and stopped idling engines when waiting for students.

Used fewer herbicides and pesticides outside; instead planted more flowers and native grasses.

Switched to toilet paper and paper towels made of 100 percent recycled paper.

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What were the results?

They saved at least several thousand dollars, although they can't calculate the exact total. The change in vending machines alone saved about $1,200.

They kept 8.34 tons of materials out of the landfill during the school year.

Because buses didn't idle, it saved energy but also it kept the air much cleaner around the buses, inside the buses and inside the schools. And it was much quieter, and therefore safer, for students.

In addition, students began to take the ideas home and started turning off lights.

How about the future?

The district plans to continue the efforts this school year.

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