Editor's Focus: Beyond Tradition

“Traditional” thinking says education institutions don't need to be concerned about energy use or related costs during the summer months. After all, aren't schools closed for summer break?

While “traditional” use of schools may be on hiatus, today's education institutions — from elementary schools to universities — rarely are closed in the summer months.

Myriad programs and sessions are taking place at institutions across the nation during this time, and many education administrators find the June to beginning-of-September timeframe among their busiest. In addition, the summer months typically are a hubbub of activity as construction projects abound on most campuses.

This expanded use of facilities beyond the traditional school calendar has made education institutions even more dependent on energy — prompting them to not only explore additional ways to conserve, but also to search for opportunities to improve facilities, equipment and systems to use energy more efficiently. Plus, the building boom that is resulting in thousands of new school and university buildings annually that need to be cooled, heated, lighted and stocked with the latest power-dependent technology only adds to the strain on energy budgets.

The preoccupation with energy use and management is warranted — schools and colleges spent almost $12 billion on energy in the 2002-03 academic year. This significant amount is prompting more institutions to make energy upgrades and the installation of energy-efficient equipment and systems a priority.

But even as education institutions make a concerted effort to improve facilities and better manage energy, spending in this area continues to grow. For example, the $8.5 billion spent on energy by the nation's elementary and secondary schools in the 2002-03 school year is 31 percent more than what was spent in 1999-00 ($6.5 billion). The $3.1 billion spent on energy by colleges in 2002-03 is 11 percent higher than the $2.8 billion spent three years ago.

School districts, in particular, are feeling the heat. A new report states that more than one-third of all school districts believe they have a long-term energy problem, and nearly three-quarters feel future increases in energy costs pose a major threat to budgets and the ability to provide student instruction.

Break tradition. Take advantage of this time to inventory your institution's energy use and expenditures, and begin to make improvements in facilities, systems and operations that will cool down rising energy costs.

SCORECARD

$11.6
BILLION

Total amount spent on energy by the nation's education institutions (schools and colleges) in the 2002-03 school year.

$8.5
BILLION

Total amount spent on energy by the nation's elementary and secondary schools in the 2002-03 school year.

$3.1
BILLION

Total amount spent on energy by the nation's colleges in the 2002-03 school year.

$160

Amount spent per student (K-12) on energy in the 2002-03 school year.

$198

Amount spent per student (colleges) on energy in the 2002 school year.

34

Percentage of total school district maintenance and operations (M&O) budget spent on energy (2002-03 school year); colleges spent 32 percent of their M&O budget on energy.

Source: American School & University, “32nd annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for School Districts” and American School & University, “9th annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for Colleges” (April 2003)

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