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A window to energy-efficent schools

My harsh words for Burbank Unified School District officials over

dual-pane windows left my stomach in knots. I’d rather be an informed

citizen than an angry one, so I called nationally recognized energy

efficiency experts, schools, architects and window manufacturers. I


apologize to architect John Thomas -- I was wrong to attack his

competence, no matter how strongly I disagree with his opinions.

The evidence supporting dual glazing is overwhelming.

“It’s the common denominator of all current designs,” explains


Larry Schoff, an engineer with the EnergySmart Schools program of the

U.S. Department of Energy. “If you don’t incorporate dual glazing in

your renovations, you’re committing to decades of wasted energy and

wasted money.”

More than a dozen experts contacted consider dual glazing to be

the standard in today’s design environment, and no one believed seal

failure was an issue. The school district’s dismissal of the

technology is troubling because it indicates a broader lack of


knowledge about today’s energy design practices.

At most schools, the facilities manager is the driving force

behind efficiency improvements. Stuart Reeve, energy manager for the

Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo., says, “Technology and

innovative ideas aren’t always in a facility manager’s comfort zone.

A good manager has to be willing to open his mind to the outside

world to find these ideas.”

Ali Kiafar, the school district’s chief facilities and development


superintendent, should be leading the charge for energy efficiency.

As the person overseeing a multimillion-dollar renovation, he should

be consulting nationally recognized experts on high-performance,

energy-efficient school design.

For most schools, energy costs are the biggest annual expense

after salaries. With the growing use of computers and technology in

schools, energy use is also rising. Energy rates are volatile.

Conservation makes sense. An energy-efficient school district can

save hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility costs per year.

BUSD spent approximately $1.3 million on utility costs last year.

A 20% reduction means $260,000 more to spend in our classrooms. What

are we doing to increase our energy efficiency? Have we weighed the

benefits and costs of new technologies? Did we calculate how much

money dual glazing would save us annually before condemning the


Without dual glazing, our new buildings must use high-efficiency

fluorescent lighting and air conditioning to meet state minimum

efficiency standards. Because the standards are based on dual-pane

windows, buildings without them are at a disadvantage and have

difficulty achieving more than minimum levels of efficiency.

Well-designed schools can exceed state minimums. Los Angeles

Unified School District’s Cahuenga Elementary School exceeds them by

30%. How do BUSD’s new buildings compare?

Cahuenga Elementary School used design principles from the

Collaborative For High Performance Schools. CHPS is a coalition of

California utilities, architects and educators that publishes

guidelines for designing schools that boost student performance while

achieving energy efficiency. Ideas include techniques like

daylighting, the practice of allowing natural daylight into

classrooms while keeping hot sunlight out.

The EnergySmart Schools program also publishes guidelines, and

will even send an engineer to our district to evaluate current and

future plans and make suggestions for energy efficiency. “We help

school officials become aware of what other schools across the

country are doing, and educate them about current designs and

technology,” Schoff says. “The program is absolutely free -- it costs

the schools nothing.”

The Poudre School District has received national recognition for

the success of its energy program. Reeve says, “We have a long list

of energy partners that we use to develop new ideas -- they include

businesses, utilities and organizations like EnergySmart Schools.

Sometimes partners bring money to the projects as well.”

Has Kiafar built relationships like these to guide and implement

BUSD’s energy policy? Has he pursued outside financing for these

types of improvements?

Ron Davis, general manager of Burbank Water and Power, wanted to

partner with BUSD. BWP had several hundred thousand dollars available

to fund conservation projects BUSD couldn’t afford. Kiafar and our

school board declined.

Does Burbank High School, with its rows of unshaded, single-pane

windows and mini-blinds shut tightly against the sun, represent our

best effort? I don’t think so. We need to begin building bridges to

the people and organizations that can help us excel: the BWP, the

City Council, EnergySmart Schools and CHPS, to name a few. I have

telephone numbers for these and more. Does anybody want to make a