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Gainesville schools aim to make most of heating energy
Teachers shutting classroom doors to keep in heat
Stickers on the doors of the classrooms at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy encourage energy savings. - photo by Tom Reed

As temperatures cool down this winter, school officials in Gainesville are asking staff to close doors to help save money and keep classrooms warm, David Shumake, assistant superintendent of instruction said.

The move is particularly important for some of the district’s oldest buildings such as Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy and Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, which have few heating vents in the hallways.

“Staff need to close the doors to maintain the temperature and make sure students are comfortable,” he said.

Shumake said the practice of saving energy can be a balancing act. When areas of a school are unoccupied during the day, many electrical systems are shut down, such as lighting and computers. However, heating typically isn’t included.

“The teachers have control of the temperature in their classrooms and they have guidelines,” Shumake said.

Classroom temperatures in the winter are recommended to be set at 68 to 72 degrees, and 74 to 78 degrees for the summer months. But teachers have final say.

Heating is also kept constant in the cafeteria areas, he said.

One of the district’s main aims is to shut down power when the building is not in use, Shumake said. School buildings are outfitted with an electronic monitoring system to ensure they aren’t using energy overnight.

“After the school day, we have control systems that shut our system down. They turn on again in the morning,” Shumake said.

Many of the school system’s energy-savings strategies came in 2008, when Gainesville signed a four-year contract with Energy Education Inc. In the last year and a half, the district saved more than $800,000 on utility bills.

Shumake said while shutting the doors does make the hallways cooler, students only occupy those areas for a short period of time before they return to class. It’s also not an issue at the newer schools, which have heating and air conditioning systems in the hallways.

To add to the savings this winter, buildings will be completely powered down during school breaks, such as the recent five-day break for Thanksgiving. That will also be the case for the two-week winter vacation this month, Shumake said.

“We shut down to maximize our savings. We’ve been doing that ever since we started the program,” he said.

Shumake said the energy savings at school this winter could also translate to savings at home for students.

“I wonder how many thermostats are set at 75 degrees at home when no one is there?” Shumake said. “The children are learning to be energy conscious as well.”