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Career center next step in HCS energy program

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New building to be capable of self-sufficiency

By Kelly Cantrall

A new career center planned for Hardin County Schools will serve as a unique educational opportunity in the county, but the building will be unique in its construction as well.

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The Early College and Career Center is planned to be net-zero ready, meaning that once built, it can be fitted with solar panels and potentially produce as much energy as it consumes. Construction has begun on the center, where Hardin County Schools students can spend half their school days working on earning college credits or career certifications.

The building needs to be as energy efficient as possible, so the money saved on utilities can be used to pay for solar panels, officials said. Sherman-Carter-Barnhart, the architecture firm that designed the building, has experience in this arena. The firm designed the first net-zero school in the country, Richardsville Elementary School in Warren County.

Hardin County Schools has focused on energy savings for the past decade. It has several Energy Star schools and employs an energy manager to monitor usage in schools and avoid the costs that come with waste.

Superintendent Nannette Johnston said with the new center, district officials wanted to take the next step.

“We wanted this school to go above and beyond,” she said.

Johnstonsaid the school can be used as a learning tool, with some of its inner workings exposed for students and visitors to see.

Sherman-Carter-Barnhart’s history with net-zero buildings is one of the reasons why the HCS board hired it for this project.

The company worked with Warren County Schools on a number of projects over 20 years, said Kenny Stanfield, an architect with the firm.

Conserving energy was a large focus for the district, he said. With each successive building the firm designed for the district, they tried to improve the energy efficiency of their creations. And through this process, the firm built up enough strategies to make a net-zero school feasible, he said.

To reach its goal, the building exterior is an important consideration, as it plays a role in heating and cooling the structure in an energy-efficient way.

What goes on in a building must be considered as well. A commercial kitchen in a school can account for as much as a quarter of a building’s energy use, Stanfield said, so the architects designed a kitchen that only uses steam and convection.

The people in the building must tailor their activities to help with the goal, Johnston said. A coffee maker and mini-refrigerator in every room can’t be part of a net-zero ready school. Reaching net-zero involves a certain philosophy on energy use, not just certain building materials, she said.

The costs associated with energy must be low enough to make adding solar panels to a building feasible. And many people didn’t think it was possible to get the energy use to that point, Stanfield said.

“There was a great deal of skepticism early on,” he said.

Richardsville Elementary opened in 2010, and solar panels were added in 2011, he said.

The district has an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority in which the TVA buys energy the school creates, Stanfield said. Last year, the school received a check from the TVA for nearly $40,000.

Discussing the energy efficiency of a planned school building is part of the design process with the Kentucky Department of Education.

KDE recommends new school buildings meet one of a few sets of requirements for energy efficiency, according to information provided by KDE.

Creating schools that are Energy Star-rated has become a standard for Sherman-Carter-Barnhart, and Stanfield said they consider how efficient they can make each new project.

“It sort of revolutionized how we think about designing schools,” he said.

The architects are considering similar strategies for the college and career center. But since it’s a new school model, a new corresponding energy model had to be created as well, he said. Three of the center’s walls will be surrounded by earth, which will help insulate it. The building also will make use of natural lighting in any way it can.

To be considered a net-zero ready school, the building must be designed to perform at less than 20,000 British thermal units per square foot per year and be able to connect to an alternative energy source, such as solar panels, according to information from KDE. The average school consumes about 73,000 BTUs per square foot per year, according to Sherman-Carter-Barnhart.

While designing the center as a net-zero-ready school is a new step for HCS, looking for ways to save on energy expenses is not. The district first employed an energy manager about a decade ago, said David Wyatt, director of maintenance.

Energy manager Bruce Daniel has been in the position for two years. Daniel monitors each school in the system using a computer program and corresponding controls in the buildings that allow him to track and control the temperature in each room. The program allows him to set schedules for climate control and lighting for each building, automatically adjusting both when the building isn’t in use. He can diagnose and fix problems often without leaving his desk.

“It’s a great, great program,” he said. “There’s just so much you can do with it.”

He views monthly utility bills to watch for spikes in expenses and see if cost-saving plans are working. He walks through school buildings at night to ensure computers are off and windows are closed.

A review of the costs from 2003 to 2012 shows the district would have spent almost $28 million on energy without the use of the program, according to information  Daniel provided. With the program, the district spent $21.4 million, a savings of about $6.5 million.

The college and career center is scheduled to open next August. Johnston said the new building will allow the district to explore this option with other construction projects. She hopes to see the efficiency models used in schools to spread throughout the community.

“It’s been extremely successful with our district,” she said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at 270-505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.