On a typical evening you can find Shawn Drake lurking in darkened halls at your neighborhood school house – his path lit only by a flashlight. Afternoons might find him measuring water depth in empty tuna cans he’s placed strategically around fields and playgrounds on various school grounds. And even though weapons are illegal on school grounds, you can sometimes spot him aiming a temperature gun at school walls.
Drake’s odd routine is all part of his quest to save Hobbs Municipal Schoolscash on its utility bills. And while the Hobbs man has been successful in saving thousands during his 15 months on the job, his ultimate goal is to ratchet down enough thermostats and water bills to reduce energy spending by $1 million a year from now. Those savings, he points out, will be redirected to programs benefitting students. “It’s a big goal, but it’s possible,” Drake says. “It’s definitely possible.”
For his efforts, Drake was recognized at the September school board meeting with the Award for Energy Stewardship by the Energy Education Incorporation.
But Drake points to the job of staff members from every group – custodial, maintenance, food service, faculty, aides and administrators - as being the major factorin chipping away at energy use.
“We’re dealing with so many people. It’s my job to try and help them change behavior,” Drake said. “In a typical school, you’ve got 30 to 40 classrooms. If you’ve got just one person leaving one light on per week, that adds up really quick. For the most part, everybody has really pitched in.”
HMS first began a concerted effort to reduce its energy bills when it contracted with Honeywell more than a decade ago to install updated air conditioning and heating units at all of its buildings. The focus intensified when the district teamed with Energy Education in 2008 and established baseline user data against which it could compare future wattage use.
Hired as an energy education specialist in July 2010, Drake received specialized Energy Education Department training to hone in on likely areas of energy savings. A big chunk came, for example, with the recent installation ofenergy efficient lighting at all of the gymnasiums in Tasker Arena. Not only will shadows and 15-minute warm-up times from the old-fashioned fixtures be eliminated, the lights will pay for themselves in savings within four years, the school energy guru said.
When it comes to day-to-day nuts and bolts operations, Drakerealized that major savings were not going to be substantial during normal operating hours. “During occupied times, our classrooms need to be comfortable; they need to be lit properly,” Drake explained. “We don’t want kids to sit in a hot room or suffer to save a dollar. We don’t want to do anything that detracts from learning. We’re trying to take care of things when no one is using the building.”
Which explains the night-time prowls of Drake, who equips himself with a flashlight and keen sense of hearing before entering a school building after doors have closed for the day.
“I do a lot of listening,” Drake said. “I’ll wave my flashlight at the security camera so they know it’s me, then I walk the halls. It’s easier to hear a computer or compressor running that way.” He even climbs on rooftops to make sure there are no leaks or energy loss through ceilings. And Drake is also on the job during Christmas and other holidays to insure that coffee pots, refrigerators and other energy users are shut down. Water fountains, for instance, are dismantled during the summer so they don’t use unnecessary electricity.
Drake says he conducts about 25 building inspections a week, including daytime visits when he monitors plumbing and water usage.Disappointed that the year-long drought has resulted in the need for intensive irrigation of school grounds and practice fields, Drake said he nonetheless has been able to keep usage to a minimum by placing empty tuna cans at strategic locations. Measuring the water depth in the cans after sprinklers turn off gives him information – based on agriculture research– which allows for sprinkler adjustment to an optimal watering level.
Drake times sprinklers for the best watering times – between 10 a.m. and4 p.m. daily – and likewise uses computers to set school building temperatures to an optimal 72 degrees during school hours. During that time he constantly monitors computer data for temperature and other readings at individual buildings. But he admits that computer feedback isnot infallable. Which is why Drake periodically unholsters his temperature gun to aim at walls and hallways as a way to double check against computerized data.
Computer automation also allows Drake and Honeywell to set air conditioning/heating start-up and shut down times for all buildings. The duo can even set individual room temperatures – cooling a D-Hall room at Highland on Saturdays, for example, while not cooling the rest of the building. Technology at new buildings, Drake said, includes motion and even heat sensitive lighting. When a building is unoccupied for a period of time, lights automatically switch off. Evolving energy technology and awareness is all part of a worldwide shift to not only conserve energy for the monetary savings, but for the impact on the planet itself.
Energy Education Incorporation estimates that resources saved by decreasing thermal unit generation since HMS instituted its program are the equivalent to planting more than 92,000 trees.
“Either way, through the money we’re saving and giving back to students or through the environmental savings, it’s a win-win situation,” Drake said.