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Energy program has led to savings

Little changes in behavior are starting to add up to big savings for the Farmington School District.

Since enrolling in the Schools for Energy Efficiency program last June the district has saved a little more than $28,000 on heating an electricity costs. The bulk of that came from October to December, when the district saved $26,326.

Those savings have come for the most part without significant sacrifices. The idea behind SEE, which features 350-some strategies for saving energy, is to help students, teachers and other district employees get into the habit of doing little things like turning the lights off when there's nobody in a room.

"It's about eliminating waste," SEE representative Doug Karnuth told school board members when he presented the program in May. "If it's not being used, let's get it turned off."

Little changes can add up when you're talking about bills like the district has. The Farmington School District's annual utility costs are $1.1 million -- about .95 cents per square foot of building space and $177 per student.

So far, the SEE strategy seems to be working. At Meadowview Elementary School, which had the district's best results for the second quarter at 25 percent savings, principal Jon Reid said the trick has been getting people into the power-saving mindset. That means turning off lights in common areas when nobody's using the room, custodians switching off lights at night when they're not working in an area or adjusting when the heat comes on in the morning and goes off at night.

The school turns off computers when they're not in use during the day and turns off all computers at night.

Reid said students have quickly taking to policing the activities of their teachers.

"We've not done anything that's remarkable but we have a couple of teachers that have really gotten involved in it and tried to make it part of the thought and the culture of the school," Reid said. "The kids are becoming tyrants of reminding us to turn things off."

"It just adds up," he said. "I don't think it's changed our lifestyle at all here."

Third grade teacher Becky Creglow is part of a committee working on strategies to bring the power-saving message home to students. She's asked the library to display books about energy and fifth graders read energy-related messages on the school's daily announcements. Students who give the right answer to questions about those announcements can win prizes.

Most of the strategies in place at Meadowview come from St. Paul-based SEE.

Creglow said students have gotten excited about making a differene.

"It's hard to know the whole school, but they're enthusiastic," she said. "They'll say to me, 'Oh, you've gotta shut off your monitor.' They come over and shut off my monitor."

Reid said he likes the program's message.

"I think this is an important direction for instruction and education," Reid said. "We're going to need to be more and more aware of how we can save energy or we're just going to run out and it's going to get so costly. So expensive."

The district gives its top savings school each year $250. Reid said he plans to use the money for an end-of-year rootbeer float party.

The district paid $55,000 for the first year of its enrollment in SEE. Finance director Jeff Priess said he expects the district to save between $110,000 and $220,000 on energy costs. Cost for future years of enrollment should go down because the first year includes a lot of set-up costs.