With utility budgets not getting any bigger for public school districts, some in the East Valley are aiming to save green by making their campuses and offices more green.
The Queen Creek Unified School District thinks of itself as an environmentally-conscious trend-setter. This fall, students will return to campuses that have more efficient lighting and air-conditioning systems, and similar fixes at the district office will improve sustainability.
The $2.8-million renovations were funded in part by an $843,000 grant from federal stimulus money. District officials project energy savings of up to 60 percent in some areas.
"I think it is a source of pride, especially at the district office," said Candy Cooley, director of facilities for the district. "Our standards with lighting and air conditioning are much more efficient than what we had in the past, and we look to that as the new standard.
"I think what you'll find in the East Valley is that efficiency is becoming a standard as well, because the budgets are so restrictive. So we have to do what we can to lighten the load."
In 2010, 25 districts around the state were selected to share $55 million in stimulus funds for energy improvements. Higley Unified received a $491,000 grant; Gilbert Unified received a $221,000 award.
In Queen Creek, all seven of the district's schools were fitted with more-efficient lighting fixtures with occupancy sensors in each classroom. Aging air-conditioning units at Queen Creek Elementary and Queen Creek Middle School have been replaced.
A tankless water-heater pilot project at Desert Mountain Elementary School was a success, so a similar setup will be put in at Queen Creek High School.
"The tankless heater showed to be much more efficient," Cooley said. "They have shown significant value energy-wise, but also require much less maintenance, which we obviously like. We haven't seen any difference in how fast the water gets there, or how hot it is ...
"Now, we'll take it up to the high school, which uses four times the hot water. But we know that it will work, and we know that it will save us money."
The Queen Creek project developer is Phoenix-based Centennial Contractors Enterprises.
"We've dealt with the district for the last few years, and it's a very progressive group of school board members and administrators," said Charlie Bowers, Centennial green solutions project manager. "They are sustainability-minded."
A potato processing plant adjacent to the old district office on Ellsworth Road was demolished to build a center that will house buses and other vehicles.
The structural steel and concrete from the plant was recycled, saving about $25,000 in hauling and landfill-use fees. The concrete is being used as gravel fill for the new structure, a $40,000 savings.
"That's something people don't normally think of," Bowers said. "They saved greenhouse gases by not having to truck all that stuff off to a landfill, pay landfill fees, then buy new gravel. That's a big savings for the environment."
Cooley said that the district would have liked to do more, such as LED lighting in every classroom. But she said it "was an expense we could not take on right now."
Bowers said that green projects are wise investments for school districts, particularly with government incentives and low-interest loans available for such projects.
"It's something that puts cash back in the till, and it takes little money upfront," Bowers said.