When it comes to energy efficiency, Connecticut's public school buildings aren't even close to making the grade - a failure with powerful implications for the state's energy supplies, economic development, taxpayers' wallets, even air quality.
The Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University issued a report concluding that on a scale of 1 to 100 (50 being average energy efficiency, 75 is exemplary), Connecticut's schools rate a 26, making them among the least efficient school buildings in the nation.
It's a problem that few communities in Connecticut can afford. Statewide during the 2004-05 school year, public schools spent more than $124 million on energy, according to the institute. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and instability in the Middle East, the institute figures those costs went up 35 percent during the last school year. That puts the total statewide energy bill for schools at more than $160 million for 2005-06.
The problem with Connecticut's school buildings originates with bad timing, according to the study. Ninety percent of the state's public schools were designed and built before the 1978 energy crisis, a national event that sparked an overhaul of building codes for improved energy efficiency. Even worse for Connecticut, 68 percent of the state's schools date from between 1950 and 1978, a time when energy was cheap and schools were being built quickly to keep pace with the baby-boom generation.
As a consequence, the buildings, with their cement slab foundations, flat roofs, and large, single-pane glass windows and aluminum walls, are virtual energy sieves. Even schools constructed prior to 1950 (many of which are now renovated) are more energy efficient.
As energy costs climb, school officials increasingly find themselves having to make decisions that affect educational quality, according to the report.
Better energy efficiency would ease that equation. It would also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which would improve air quality.
In New Haven, city officials are planning to build or renovate 50 schools over the next 10 years. Officials are aiming to raise the energy score of eight new buildings to an extremely efficient 75, a level that would save taxpayers $400,000 annually, according to one estimate.
Connecticut needs to raise the bar for new construction, getting schools to meet higher standards for energy efficiency. It should also come up with incentives that will encourage communities to improve existing schools.
Lawmakers are already working on some ideas. In the interests of protecting educational quality, economic development, air quality and taxpayers, the solutions can't come too soon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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