Turning off a few lights and unplugging some appliances in the Warren County (Ky.) Public Schools in 2003 may result in more energy-efficient public schools someday in South Carolina.
Several stakeholders from South Carolina, including Horry County Schools Superintendent Cindy Elsberry, toured Richardsville Elementary School on Thursday, seeing everything from the geo-thermal pipes on the ground floor to stepping on the countless solar panels attached to the roof at the 72,600-square-foot facility opened in October of 2010.
Toting iPads, they saw videos about the school after clicking on the QR codes located throughout the building. Student tour guides Elijah Whittle and Martina Akin showed the visitors that not only do they attend school at Richardsville, but they also know what makes it tick because that information has long been part of the school’s curriculum.
Warren County Public Schools began looking at energy costs in 2003 when it hired Jay Wilson as energy/safety manager, and by the time Plano Elementary School was opened in 2007, the county district was on its way with the help of a Texas-based company, Energy Education, and a Kentucky architect at building a school facility that could generate more energy than it used: Richardsville Elementary.
Since 2003, Warren County schools have saved about $7 million in energy costs.
Kenny Stanfield, principal architect for Sherman Carter Barnhart of Louisville, said prior to the South Carolina delegation’s arrival that long before Richardsville’s idea was a gleam in someone’s eye, he made a presentation before a high-performance school seminar in New Jersey seeing if they were interested in building a net zero school.
“After I was finished, the man looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t know they had architects in Kentucky,’ ” and they basically laughed off the idea, Stanfield said.
Stanfield had the last laugh. Richardsville makes so much electricity for the Tennessee Valley Authority grid that when the Warren County school district gets the power bill from Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp., it says “CR BAL DO NOT PAY.” The school’s latest bill for July 16 through Aug. 16 shows a $33,573.98 accumulated energy credit in the school’s account.
Wilson told the South Carolinians that utility costs are second only to personnel costs in a school district budget. Wilson started the energy conscience when he started flicking light switches and unplugging appliances in schools to see if electric bills would decrease.
“I see a green school. I see a green curriculum. I see green living,” said Michael Criss, a planner from Lexington, S.C., who through the U.S. Green Building Council South Carolina chapter, is trying to build momentum for energy-efficient, cost-effective buildings for Palmetto State schools.
South Carolina state Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, was making his second trip to Richardsville, and this time he brought along Elsberry; state Rep, Jerry Govan Jr., D-Orangeburg, senior member of the state House Education Committee; Bonnie Loomis, in charge of charitable giving for Duke Energy; and other people from South Carolina.
Leventis, who Govan said might become the “father of ‘Green Schools’ in South Carolina” someday, is an eight-term South Carolina state senator who isn’t running for re-election and is a retired brigadier general in the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Leventis said the net zero energy school in Warren County is a doable project also in South Carolina because the technology contained within its walls isn’t experimental and all the components are available on the open market. A net zero building is going up right now at the University of South Carolina.
The $12.16 million Richardsville Elementary, which contains $2.7 million worth of solar panels that provide electricity to run everything under roof, was profiled in Parade Magazine and has been visited by people from France and all across the United States.
“This is fascinating,” said Govan, looking around the school’s library and the countless displays and television monitors on hall walls that tell of the school’s story. Kerry Young, Warren County Board of Education vice chairman, told the visitors that they can call up a website and see how many kilowatts the school’s solar panels are providing at any particular moment. They are capable of producing 344 kilowatts.