Schools prepare for winter 'final exams' in fuel conservation

At Middlebury College they have prepared for winter by storing summer in the basement. Heat sinks, foundations of crushed rock saturated with water, have been laid under new buildings. All summer long, heat generated by air-conditioning units has been pumped through the rock, so that in January bottled warmth will radiate up through the floor and take the chill off frigid Vermont mornings.

Yale students are used to rising at the crack of noon. By moving many popular courses up to 8:30 a.m., administrators hope to roust them up earlier -- and save energy through switching dorm life to a normal daylight rhythm.

And Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, is making a bid to be academia's OPEC. "We've got one natural gas well behind the library," chuckles the college's president, Dr. Charles Simmons, "and four more on the equestrian field."

Schools at all levels around the country, rabbit- punched by last year's energy bills, are rolling up their sleeves and slogging into the hard job of cutting their oil, electric, and gas consumption. some of the nation's freshest conservation ideas are coming from educational institutions -- where ideas, after all, are a stock in trade.

The American Association of School Administrators estimates schools nationwide will consume 20 percent less energy this year than they did in 1972.

Cal Anderson, director of Energy Conservation and Usage at Colorado's Jefferson County Public Schools, says his system will save $700,000.

"We believe in the team approach," he says, "and in long-term planning."

Information was the key to Jefferson County's savings. Each school was audited through an energy management program, and heating and light controls were grouped at a central point so energy consumption could be read and controlled more easily.

The school system employs an analyst for energy- related purchases, who pays for his salary catching erros on tulity bills. A full-time engineer fine-tunes the district's heating plants.

And for that final touch, schools that cut their consumption 30 percent are awarded green "energy flags."

"It gets the students interested," says Anderson.

Chris Crittenden, director of the Energy Task Force, says schools are making good progress toward cutting their energy use.

"They look at their bills and realize they have no choice. Lots of schools are going to central control systems, and many of them are forming energy committees."

Mr. Crittenden says he believes most schools now are collecting data on where energy is going -- a major first step. Many are using a portable energy meter, distributed by an Atalanta company, which monitors energy use when installed in a building. The meter was designed by a Colby College official who, in a fit of frustration, scribbled its design on a napkin.

Public schools can plot their energy savings by subscribing to the Public School Energy Conservation Service, a program begun by the Federal Energy Office. The service runs each school's energy data through a computer, identifies shortcomings, and lists the capital costs needed for optimum savings.

En thousand schools have used the service the last few years. "Everybody's concerned," says director Josh Burns. "Nobody's wasting like five years ago."

At Middlebury College, where energy consumption has been slashed 30 percent, conservation is a way of life. There is an Energy Council, an energy newsletter , and programs ranging from teh novel heat sinks to cogeneration of electricity in the steam heating plant.

Students at Walpole (Mass.) High School installed their own hydroelectric station on the nearby site of an abandoned mill. The work was partly funded by local businesses.

Many schools are switching to four-day weeks. That way, Miami's Dade Community College will cut airconditioning costs, and 15 school districts in rural Colorado will save on transportation.

There is still a long way to go. "We will have to learn a whole new terminology," says Lake Erie's Dr. Simmons.

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