Environmental Stewardship in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Leads to Valuable Operating Funds in a Down Economy
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is the second-largest public school district in North Carolina and the 18th largest in the U.S. The district, which has more than 18,000 employees, operates 159 schools with more than 143,000 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. It has an annual operating budget of $1.2 billion, operating and maintaining more than 20 million square feet of conditioned space, 600 permanent buildings and 1,200 mobile classrooms on 5,000 acres of land.
As a public entity and one of the largest employers and consumers in the region, CMS has a responsibility and an opportunity to lead the way in sustainable use of resources. Therefore, the district identified sustainability and stewardship as key strategic goals. Its strategic plan for 2014 set goals to reduce all utility consumption by 20 percent, solid wastes by 5 percent and pollutants by 20 percent. CMS currently is on track to achieve these goals.
CMS has been following many principals and resources from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR website to help achieve its success. The district has been an ENERGY STAR partner since 2003. CMS chose to implement ENERGY STAR because it is sponsored by the federal government, and CMS administrators believe the program is a well-mapped-out, easy-to-use external system. ENERGY STAR software is free; its use only costs Mecklenburg County taxpayers staff time. In addition, CMS likes being able to compare its buildings against other similar buildings throughout the state and country with adjustments for weather and other factors.
In 2010, CMS was recognized by EPA as an ENERGY STAR Leader for improving its energy performance across the board by 10 percent from a 2008-09 baseline period. To achieve this reduction, the district consolidated non-educational programs into fewer facilities, refined a summer energy-savings plan that used a four-day workweek to save about $500,000 in cooling costs, and used posters and the district’s television station to promote energy efficiency.
Successful efficiency measures included lighting upgrades, such as T12 to T8; HVAC schedule optimization; remote software and onsite HVAC checks; and installation of programmable thermostats in mobile classrooms. Many factors determined priority for these projects, including payback calculations; incentives; value-add components, like better quality of lights and color indexes; reduced maintenance costs; and length of operational hours for a facility.