The technological snafu that has kept the lights on for a year and a half at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Mass., has cost taxpayers at least $100,000 in added expenses and repairs, officials say.
The Springfield Republican reports the system malfunctioned in August 2021 when malware corrupted the school lighting system's server; as a result, the lights throughout the school remained on constantly, with no way to manually turn them off.
Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District Superintendent John Provost said the system was designed so that if anything ever went wrong, it would default to an on position — particularly in the case of an emergency, such as a fire.
Aaron Osborne, assistant superintendent for finance, says additional costs from the lights being on 24 hours a day are "in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per month," a total of $36,000 to $90,000 over the course of the issue. In addition, it will cost another $60,000 or so to permanently fix the building's lighting issue, involving both hardware and software upgrades.
Those upgrades are partially complete, Provost said. Hardware fixes were installed by October 2022, and the software portion is scheduled to be installed and configured later this month during winter break.
"The new system does include a manual override," Provost says. "So should a similar situation happen and the system go into default, we would at least be able to manually turn off the lights."
Osborne called the series of events which compounded on one another resulting in the delayed solution a "perfect storm" between the lighting system's failure, the lack of a manual override, the Covid-19 pandemic and the "fragility" of supply chains for parts needed to make fixes.
The high school opened in 2012, replacing an older building. The new facility was designed with a highly automated lighting system meant to capture ambient light throughout the day to minimize energy usage.
Osborne said the system had done its job properly for about a decade until the failure — actually saving the district $2,000 per month over 10 years.