Two school leaders tell legislators about containing facility costs

Legislators on Tuesday expressed appreciation and support for two school leaders who explained how they have contained costs in facilities at their school districts and collaborated with other districts.

The House Utilities and Telecommunications Committee invited David Banks, energy manager of Wichita USD 259, and Darin Headrick, superintendent of Greensburg USD 422, for an informational meeting.

With 51,000 students, Wichita is the largest school district in Kansas, and Greensburg, having to rebuild all of its facilities after the devastating 2007 tornado, may be considered the state’s newest school district.

Banks said Wichita has spent more than two decades developing an energy program that has drastically reduced water and natural gas consumption while becoming more efficient with electricity

“As a result of changing systems, habits and commodity pricing strategies, the program has achieved $70 million in cost savings and cost efficiencies over a 22-year span,” Banks said.

In the 1993-94 school year, Wichita public schools consumed 283 million gallons of water at a cost of $450,000. Last year, it used 81 million gallons of water, although because of increased water and stormwater rates, that cost $788,000.

Electrical usage has nearly doubled since 1993, but that is because of the greater use of computers, from 1,000 to 43,000, and the increased use of air conditioning. Before 2000, most Wichita schools weren’t air conditioned.

Even with the increased electrical usage, however, Banks said the district has implemented efficiency strategies, such as the digital control of HVAC equipment and outside lighting and a stringent shutdown of buildings during the summer, holidays and weekends.

By being a member of the 47-school district cooperative Greenbush Energy Group, Wichita has saved up to 40 percent, or $25 million, on the cost of natural gas used to heat schools over 20 years.

State Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka, and the ranking minority member on the committee, urged Banks to give his presentation to the House Education Committee so its members could see how districts have joined forces to reduce utility costs.

Headrick, the superintendent of Greensburg, said the district’s ability to rebuild after the 2007 F5 tornado helped draw families back to the town that was leveled by the storm.

The new school building includes numerous efficiency and environmental features. The district also has a 50 megawatt wind turbine that produces nearly 10 percent of its needs.

But, he said, the biggest savings was in the use of polished concrete floors, which will require little maintenance.

While the school may have cost more than most new schools, he said officials looked at the costs for the 50 year to 70 year life of the building and were satisfied the building was the most cost-efficient.

“We are paying as little as possible for the best facility,” he said.

Both officials said that while they are trying to conserve and be as efficient as possible, rising water and electrical costs continue to be a problem during tight budget times.

February 10, 2016