Photo by Mike Lawrence
Kindergartener Nick Estes takes a swing Thursday while playing broomball at South Routt Elementary School in Yampa. The school's gym has new infrared lights hanging from the ceiling, part of a $4.1 million overhaul to improve energy efficiency in South Routt schools. Hung about two weeks ago, the new lights noticeably brighten up the gym.
Steamboat Springs South Routt schools are conducting an energy 180.
The South Routt School District could be the last in Colorado to heat its schools with coal. In a matter of months - after the hazardous coal boilers installed in 1970 are removed and replaced - it could also be the first Colorado school district to heat a school with biomass, using wood pellets from plants in Kremmling or Walden. The turnaround is the leading aspect of the district's $4.1 million project to improve energy efficiency in its schools and buildings. The project, fueled largely by state grants and voter approval of a $1.57 million bond issue in November 2007, also includes installations of geothermal heating systems and an overhaul of lights.
"It's not just replacing boilers," South Routt Superintendent Kelly Reed said. "It's going in and restructuring the entire heating system of the district so that everything will be more efficient."
When construction accelerates after the end of the school year, a biomass boiler will be installed to heat Soroco Middle School and geothermal pipes will be installed to heat much of Soroco High School and South Routt Elementary School in Yampa.
"This system should accommodate the school district for 30 years," Reed said.
Installation of new, infrared lights was completed two weeks ago in the elementary school gymnasium.
"The lights are great," Artie Weber, the school's physical education teacher, said Thursday as kindergarteners played broomball. "It makes me feel safer that the kids won't fall. : It's much brighter."
The Governor's Energy Office is contributing money and labor for the middle school's biomass boiler. McKinstry, an energy-oriented consulting and contracting firm based in the Seattle area, also is contributing free services for the boiler, which Reed said will be "cost-neutral" for South Routt schools.
Reed said although a propane heating system will be installed as a back-up, using biomass pellets for clean heat could save the school district $10,000 a year.
Reed and GEO spokeswoman Megan Castle said to their knowledge, Soroco Middle School will be the first school in Colorado to use biomass heat. Castle also said the office was "pretty surprised to hear about" the coal boilers still in use at Soroco schools - likely the last in Colorado to use coal heat, Castle said.
She said GEO Director Tom Plant or other state energy officials might visit South Routt next month to officially shut down the coal boilers, which Reed said created mechanical and safety concerns for the school district.
Friday, Reed spoke about the entire energy efficiency project at a green schools summit at the Denver Art Museum. The summit also included Ron Howard, who spoke about a wind turbine project in the Wray School District; Stu Reeve, who spoke about energy management in the Poudre School District; and state Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff, a Denver Democrat, who discussed upcoming energy-related legislation. Plant gave the opening remarks.
Reed said South Routt's energy overhaul could not have occurred without support from local voters, state capital construction grants, the GEO and state Department of Local Affairs. The school district's entire 2007-08 budget was $3.8 million - less than the cost of the $4.1 million overhaul.
"The size of the project is amazing for the size of the district," Reed said. "Sometimes, the heavens look down on you."
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