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The man with the power wants to reduce it

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By Todd Martin

With six school districts to cover, Sherman Adams will be burning the midnight oil. But don't worry, as the new Energy Manager for the districts, Adams will be sure to turn the lights off when he leaves.

His office will be at Shelby County's Public School's central office, but Adams will also split his time among the Henry County, Trimble County, Anchorage, Eminence and Frankfort school districts.

"But since Shelby County is the largest district, it will get about 60 percent of my time," Adams said.

Adams, working under a 22-month grant in conjunction with the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative and the Kentucky School Boards Association, will study each district's utility usage, buildings and equipment to find ways the district can save money.

The goal, he said, is a 20 percent reduction in utilities.

"I think this year we can see about a 10 percent decrease in utility costs," he said. "Our goal through the program is 20 percent over the two-year period, but some programs, like our pilot schools in Bullitt and Kenton counties, are seeing a decrease of better than 30 percent."

With Shelby County spending about $1.1 million in utilities last year, a 10 percent savings should save the district about $110,000 that first year.

However, with Shelby County, Adams faces a unique situation. With Collins High School  opening, no matter how efficient it is, an increase in total utility cost is almost unavoidable.

"It's going to be a challenge, but we have to look at each building's cost per square-foot," he said. "Maybe, if we can cut enough costs throughout the other buildings, we can cover the cost of the new building. Maintaining the same utility usage would be a big saving."

Adams, 42, is originally from Bullitt County and is back in Kentucky after a short stint in West Texas where he was the Project Manager for four federal government buildings for six months.

"I saw this as an opportunity to get back home, so I jumped on it," he said. He's currently looking to relocate to Shelby County now.

The quickest and most effective way for the district to save money is to change habits, Adams said.

"We need teachers and every one across the district to shut everything down at the end of the day," he said. "Changing habits is the biggest thing we can do from the start.

"So, we're creating energy teams with kids involved at each school. They're going to do energy audits, letting teachers and administration know when things can be shut down and helping keep an eye on each school."

Just making sure lights are off over night in a classroom can add savings quickly. At about $2 for 16 hours overnight, 100s of classrooms can reach a staggering amount.

"We're also going to look at appliances," Adams said. "It may only cost about six or seven dollars a month to run that compact refrigerator in a classroom, but when you think about hundred of those across the district, that's quite a savings."

Right now, with schools in a slower mode for summer, Adams is focusing on the installation of software that essentially would work like your programmable home thermostat.

"We want to be able to control the schools, and shut down the cooling of areas not in use," he said.

Adams said he likely would focus most of his attention at the start on Shelby County High School. The school is the largest energy consumer in his six-district territory, but to be fair it is also the largest school.

"With the portables out, that's going to make a nice savings right there," he said. "But I'm working with the KSBA and the utility companies to try to lower the rates for the district. With a new school opening, the usage is going to go up, so we're hoping to cut the rates."

Though changes could come to buildings, Adams said those wouldn't happen any time soon.

"We have to save money before we can spend money to retrofit some of these buildings with more energy-efficient equipment," he said. "That's why changing habits is so important."