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M-CHS gets high ranking for energy efficiency

The dignitaries cut a ribbon, officially opening the new Montezuma-Cortez High School in 2015. The school recently earned a high rating for energy efficiency from Energy Star.

Montezuma-Cortez High School is saving more energy than 89 percent of similar schools in the country, according to a rating from Energy Star, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency that promotes energy efficiency.

The rating was based on energy usage at the school over the course of its first full year in operation, from October 2015-2016, and was compared with other K-12 schools of a similar size in the country.

“M-CHS is better-performing than 89 percent of schools in the country in terms of energy usage,” Re-1 District owner’s representative Jim Ketter told school board members at a meeting on Dec. 21.

District owners representative Peter Robinson said one that a requirement of the state department of education BEST grant, which partially funded the construction of the school, was to pursue the Energy Star certification. The goal was to score 75 or higher, he said.

Robinson said he expects a formal award from Energy Star within a month, including a sticker that will go on the door of the school. Energy Star has yet to process the school’s rating and verify it.

The 159,300-square-foot building uses about 30 kBtu (30,000 British thermal units) per square foot per year. By comparison, the average school in the country uses approximately 80 kBtu per square foot per year, Ketter said. The school used about 4.56 million kBTUs of electricity during the year. About 85 percent of that was generated from the city’s electrical grid. Nine percent was generated from natural gas, and five percent was from solar panels on the roof of the school.

About 85 percent of the school’s energy use was generated from the city’s electrical grid. Nine percent was generated from natural gas, and 5 percent was from solar panels on the school’s roof. Solar panels on the roof of the school generated $7,811 worth of electricity during that year, according to Robinson’s report.

Energy Star communications representative Lauren Hodges said the rating program takes into account building size, operating hours, weather, the number of computers and walk-in freezers and other factors. Scores also are normalized depending on criteria such as climate conditions and whether the school is a high school, she said.

“When we were developing a model, we found that these were drivers in energy use,” Hodges said. “When accounting for all these differences, we can compare apples to apples.”

There are almost 30,000 Energy Star-certified buildings in the country, and about 9,600 of those are K-12 schools, Hodges said. There are 343 certified schools in Colorado, but the closest to Cortez is in Grand Junction, she said. M-CHS would be the first certified Energy Star school in Southwest Colorado.

Although M-CHS was designed to be efficient, Energy Star doesn’t take that into consideration when devising a rating, Hodges said.

“Sometimes we see buildings are designed to be efficient but in practice they don’t live up to expectations,” Hodges said. “It’s great to see a school with a score of 89. It shows the people operating the school know what they’re doing and they’re doing a great job.”

Utilities at the school cost about 86 cents per square foot. Electrical HVAC accounted for 49 percent of the school’s usage, while electric plug loads accounted for 33 percent, lighting was 17 percent and gas heating was 1 percent.

The school used about 4.2 million gallons of water from domestic and irrigation sources during that year, according to Robinson’s report.

Ketter commended board members for opting to keep a high-efficiency energy system as a top priority in design plans for the new high school. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems in the building cost about $6-8 million and included high-efficiency options for infrastructure such as windows and insulation, he said.

Robinson said he wasn’t aware of any other buildings in Montezuma County that are Energy Star-certified.