02-24-12: District to save $200,000 a year with energy-efficient lights
02-24-12: District to save $200,000 a year with energy-efficient lights
New energy-efficient lighting has replaced old fluorescent lighting this year in classrooms, gymnasiums, and other work spaces in 25 schools and seven district support buildings.

The district expects to save $200,000 a year by reducing electricity consumption with the new lights.

The life expectancy of the new bulbs, also referred to as lamps, is nearly double the older models, said Gary Frentress, director of capital projects. Each bulb is rated to stay lit for 20,000 hours, which equates to about 10 years based on average school usage.

All of the older-style lights — an estimated 900,000 square feet of lighting — have been replaced since the school board approved the project last March. The total replaced makes up about one-third of all of the lighting districtwide.

Besides being more energy efficient, the lights are brighter and have a better rendition of color compared to the older variety, said Rudy Fyles, executive director of education support and operations.

The change is particularly striking in spaces such as the Ferrucci Junior High gym, where the former sodium lights emitted a yellowish tinge.

“It is a dramatic improvement,” said Cindy VanHulle, health and physical education teacher at Ferrucci Junior High.

VanHulle pointed to a painting of the school’s mascot, a cougar, on the far gym wall. “Many of us didn’t even see that there was grass painted under the Cougar’s feet until the new lights were installed,” she said. “That’s how dark it was in here.”

The lighting project began last spring after the school district learned that federal law prohibits further manufacturing of the old fluorescent bulbs after July 2012.

If a light burned out after that time, it could become increasingly difficult to find a replacement, Frentress said.

While many of the district’s newer schools already had the brighter and more efficient lighting, bulbs needed to be replaced at 17 elementary schools, four junior high schools, four high schools, and seven support buildings.

Work was done outside of school hours, and the last of the bulb replacements were completed last month.

“Students left their old classrooms at the end of school only to return the following day to a bright and cheery learning environment,” Fyles said.

The project cost $2.25 million, but the district’s share is about half of that, Frentress said. With an estimated $200,000 a year in energy sayings, the project will almost pay for itself within six years, he said.

District employees kept the cost down by securing two grants — one from the State Department of Commerce and another from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Employees also applied and qualified for energy rebates from Tacoma City Light and Puget Sound Energy.

Capital funds, reserved for building projects and other improvements such as this lighting project, were used to fund the project.