I Want To Leave A Legacy

Entering the building for the first time as freshmen, Jeena and Kristi didn’t notice the mission statement posted near the front door of GCMS High School. Four years later, the girls can honestly say that GCMS High School lived up to their promise to Create a Community of Life-Long Learners by Providing an Atmosphere of Enthusiasm, Excellence and Respect. In exchange, the girls left their high school a valuable legacy.

As freshmen, the girls were in two classes together – Math with Mr. Kaufmann and Family & Consumer Science with Ms. Wade.

Honestly, I thought Ms. Wade really didn’t like us, explained one of the girls. She said we were going to work with Mr. Kaufmann’s Math class to learn how our school used energy and develop ways to reduce the school’s energy costs.

The girls agreed that it sounded like a lot of work. “I was sure I wouldn’t understand it so I just pretended.” said Kristi – a competitive young lady who didn’t want to admit that the “big words” she was hearing were foreign to her. In short order, their opinion began to change. “It felt more like they really wanted us to experience things and not just sit there and talk about it. We learned how things actually worked and they respected us.”

“In the beginning, it’s hard to see the whole picture – even for the teachers.” said Ms. Wade. “The trick is to not look ahead and take it one lesson at a time.” EnergyNet provides teachers with a complete step-by-step instructor guide with lesson plans, supplemental student materials, assessment tools and access to professionals who understand both energy and education.

The Energy Audit

During their freshmen year, using materials provided by EnergyNet, the students conducted an energy audit of the entire school. They counted light fixtures; looked for leaks around windows and doors; got a look at the school’s boiler room; talked with the maintenance team; cataloged all the equipment; and evaluated how the building was used. Bob Dickey from Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative and Carol Timms Lightingof EnergyNet were on hand for the audit to answer questions and encourage the students.

“We were excited about doing the audit” said Jeena. “Yeah, they gave us tape measures!”

By the time students evaluated the data they’d collected, reviewed the school’s utility bills and considered their options, the diagnosis was clear: the first thing GCMS High School needed was more efficient lighting. Students estimated that installing energy efficient lighting would pay back quickly. They reported their findings to school administrators who were impressed with the level of work but didn’t have the funds to install the improvements.

Lighting Grant

Students didn’t want to let the energy savings slip through their fingers and they didn’t want their audit to be “just an exercise.” So, at the beginning of the next year, students held a brainstorming session with EIEC’s EnergyNet team. The team shared information about opportunities for energy grants and the enterprising students included their audit data in a grant application to the IL Clean Energy Community Foundation.

In May, students appeared before the GCMS School Board to announce they had been awarded $31,728 for their lighting project.

“It was a terrific experience” said Math teacher Matt Kaufmann. The students agreed. “It was fun to talk before the board and explain the plan because I really understood it.” said Kristi.

Nancy Nixon, Marketing Administrator for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives was impressed as well. She said “EnergyNet is a win-win. Students are learning, schools are saving tax dollars and our communities are benefiting.”

Home Energy Makeovers

However, the students weren’t satisfied. They knew there was more they could do for their school and their homes. Jeena, Kristi and the other students were sharing what they learned with their families. They installed fingertip caulk about leaky windows and replacing energy wasting incandescent bulbs. One of the students discovered that, although their family had a setback thermostat, it had never been programmed. It was set at 78 degrees at all times and was hard to sleep because it was so hot at night. They stepped in, programmed the device and saved their family both money and sleep.

Soon the students were sharing their expertise with teachers by conducting Home Energy Makeovers. The local Ace Hardware got into the act by visiting Ms. Wade’s classroom with samples of weatherization materials and information on installation techniques. GCMS teachers enjoyed the new lighting in the school and the advice on reducing their homes’ operating costs.

Again, the students knew there was more they could do. The windows in the school presented huge opportunities for energy savings. Many were cracked, broken and didn’t close properly. While the maintenance staff had done everything they could, the windows had passed the end of their useful life.

The students wanted to write another grant so the windows could be replaced. Again they contacted the EIEC EnergyNet team and requested a meeting. At first the students were disappointed with the response. “The cost of replacing all the windows in GCMS High School is much too expensive for any of the available grants.” explained EnergyNet Director Carol Timms. “In this case, I think you need to consider performance contracting.” After explaining the basics of performance contracting, the students were excited.

Performance Contracting

The students invited a representative from the IL Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to meet with Superintendent Aubry, Principal Lindy and the EIEC EnergyNet team. After receiving answers to their questions, the administration gave the green light and by Spring the students were back before the School Board. This time, they were accompanied by Sylvia McIvor of Energy Systems Group – the selected performance contractor.

The students presented a proposal for $1.3 million to install energy improvements in all three buildings within the school district – including new windows in the high school, a new gym roof and the transformation of a chemistry lab into a vocational building. The money for these improvements is guaranteed by energy savings. This means that the school’s budget will only experience a positive impact.

Jeena and Kristi are most proud of “being able to help other people with something I understand.” The girls graduated knowing their contribution to GCMS will be felt for generations to come.

What a fabulous legacy!

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