CAAV Coalition Partner of the Month: Andy Kohen, Harrisonburg School Board
Energy efficiency is a measure of how much energy is lost from buildings, and thus a focus of the Climate Action Allianace of the Valley’s concern. After using fossil fuels to heat, cool and power buildings, varying amounts escapes them, depending on how much thought and quality goes into building them, adding to their carbon foot-print as long as they are in use. Dr. Kohen is a JMU emeritus professor of economics and thus is uniquely qualified to speak to the effects of energy efficiency on the long-term costs of schools, in addition to their health and comfort level. As the Harrisonburg City Council begins to search for funding for two new schools following an accelerating population increase, the difficulty multiplies. Both in clarifying the intentions for the new schools and in funding them, Dr. Kohen walked through the process for CAAV’s steering committee October 18.
The government Energy Star program defines energy efficiency as an energy use intensity (EUI) derived from energy use per square foot per year. The better the energy efficiency, the lower the EUI. It graphs typical energy efficiency of US K-12 schools at 50-100 EUI. The good news is that the energy efficiency of both new schools being designed VMCO architects will be substantially better than any existing one in Harrisonburg: projected for the Bluestone elementary, 20 EUI and for the Elon Rhodes Early Learning Center, 15 EUI. Both schools will be PV-ready although it is unlikely city council can justify the additional $600,000 to put solar panels on the Bluestone school, with an estimated $34 million already committed.
First always in funding schools come core educational goals. Magnifying the difficulty of adding energy efficiency and solar panels as core concepts for new schools is two-fold: the current reluctance state-wide to raise property taxes—the major way Virginia gets money for building schools– and at the same time, the political process, which will put two or three new members on city council and three new school board members. The soonest the possibility can even be addressed will be January 2017, when all new members are installed. Andy affirmed, however, that the school board is sensitive to energy efficiency issues.
The controversial but very necessary requirement to also expand the high school capacity that is now more than 300 students above built capacity is still mired in whether an annex to the current high school would be a better solution or a new school at another site. There is NO money right now to build either, and would likely require a change in the self-imposed city debt limit to do it.
– Anne Nielsen, for CAAV Coalition Building Committee
Each month, the CAAV Coalition Building Committee invites a community member or group to present to the CAAV steering committee about projects with which they are involved. We are grateful to be working with so many other groups and individuals passionate about creating a more resilient, healthy and just world.