Earth Day 1999 was especially significant for students, staff, and administrators at the Sachem Central School District located on New York’s Long Island. Under spring skies, students at Grundy Avenue Elementary School were joined by local dignitaries for a tree planting ceremony, as Sachem became only the second school district in the nation to complete the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Buildings program.

The award presentation recognized a substantial energy savings program initiated by Sachem, the third largest school district in New York state, which serves 15,000 students in 16 schools and 1.5 million sq ft.

No Depression Over New Arrangement

Like their counterparts at many school districts, Sachem administrators wanted to reduce operating costs by improving energy efficiency. They were also concerned that utility deregulation and fuel supply uncertainties would make it increasingly difficult to estimate fuel costs for the 16 schools and several other district buildings.

“We have buildings from the 1930s. Our infrastructure in the buildings, the oil burners, heating systems, and lighting systems, had to be replaced. But to just go out and do that piecemeal is very, very expensive,” said James Ruck, Sachem superintendent.

After an internal review of the district’s existing equipment and potential energy savings, Sachem officials worked with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and energy consultants to develop a facility improvement plan. The plan combined NYPA’s High Efficiency Lighting Program with a Johnson Controls, Inc. (Milwaukee) performance contract, enabling the district to retrofit heating and lighting systems by using the resulting energy savings to pay for the improvements over a 10-year period.

A New Look

The resulting project totaled $21 million, of which $12.8 million was financed by NYPA and the balance funded through Johnson Controls. The Long Island Power Authority provided $483,000 in rebates to help defray the cost of the lighting and motor upgrades.

When the project installation was complete, the Sachem Central School District was equipped with several new components.

Throughout all 16 schools a centralized building automation system was installed featuring a Johnson Controls Metasys® Building Automation System that controls and monitors heating, ventilating, and air conditioning. The system also alerts the maintenance staff of potential trouble spots resulting in fewer emergencies and lower costs.

The district also received better boilers, as more than two-dozen outdated oil-fired boilers at 13 schools with 54 Weil-McLain (Michigan City, IN) and 20 Aerco (Northvale, NJ) high-efficiency modular boilers. All schools now have a combination of gas-fired condensing boilers and dual-fuel-fired boilers. New lighting was installed throughout the district. B&G Electrical Contractors, West Babylon, NY, installed 21,000 Mercury high-efficiency fluorescent fixtures and 1,500 Sensor Switch occupancy sensors. The upgrade also included 380 General Electric HID fixtures and 600 Atlite exit signs.

Ventilation equipment at all 16 schools was replaced with 900 new McQuay (Minneapolis) units to bring fresher air to classrooms.

Three schools were converted from partial electric space heating to hot water using new unit ventilators. Electric booster heaters on dishwashers at nine schools were replaced with hot water from the boilers. Finally, a 54-kW electric water heater at the high school swimming pool was replaced with a more efficient, propane-fired unit.

A+ Results

Sachem students and teachers began to comment on improved air quality and better comfort shortly after installation was complete. That was just the beginning.

“The district’s commitment to saving energy and saving money is resulting in reducing our energy costs by $500,000 per year and providing a better learning environment for children,” said Ruck. All told, the improvements are saving 297,943 gallons of oil and 2.9 million kWh of electricity annually. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the resulting pollution prevention is the equivalent of planting a veritable forest on Long Island: 646 acres of trees.