Bristol-area residents share ideas about school energy efficiency

BRISTOL — A couple dozen residents of the Mount Abraham School District joined with some school officials and an energy expert this past Tuesday, Jan. 30, to explore ways of improving energy efficiency and sustainability in the schools within the five-town school district.
About 25 residents from Bristol, Starksboro, Monkton, Lincoln and New Haven came to the Mount Abe cafeteria to share ideas and concerns and discuss improvements. Along with the two hosts from the district office — school district Facilities Director Alden Harwood and Chief Financial Officer Howard Mansfield —  Efficiency Vermont official Cheryl Graves was there to explain cost-sharing programs and expertise available in support of energy efficiency and sustainability efforts in the Mount Abraham district. Schools across the district have taken advantage of Efficiency Vermont rebate programs to improve lighting efficiency over the last decade.
Among the first to speak were Richard Faesey and Jeff Dunham from Starksboro. They and other members of the recently formed Starksboro Energy Committee, have been working in their spare time to research ways to reduce the carbon footprint of Robinson Elementary School. Dunham shared specific plans to improve the comfort and efficiency of the 1978 addition to the building by using heat pumps powered by the school’s 19 solar trackers, as well as basic energy audit improvements. They are promoting this work as a potential demonstration project for air source heat pumps in the district
Bristol resident John McCormick made a strong case for undertaking regular energy audits of all of the schools in the district and involving high school students in the work. He recounted a similar project that garnered enthusiastic student involvement and learning in another district. There was much agreement about the utility of comprehensive energy audits and the benefits of fostering hands-on learning for students.
Harwood shared the fact that Lincoln Community School, after a thorough renovation several years ago including lots of air sealing, insulation and blower door tests, now heats for roughly half the cost of the rest of the district buildings.
Several attendees spoke of the numerous solar projects going on in this part of the state, and of the zero-cost investor-driven options available to schools and other entities. Projects like these will be needed to help the state reach it’s goal of achieving a 90 percent renewable energy portfolio by 2050. According McCormick, the recently covered Bristol town dump could be a perfect place to site a ground mounted photovoltaic solar array. Another resident mentioned that there is a six-year waiting period before capped landfills can be put to use for other purposes.
The large expanse of the Mount Abe roof was also mentioned as an ideal place to situate photovoltaic panels, though apparently the roof would need some work to support this.
All present agreed that there are many opportunities across the five towns to both make the school buildings more efficient and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. It was clear also that between the assistance offered up by efficiency Vermont, and the diverse expertise of citizens in the area, the district seems ready to make some progress. Many thanked Harwood and Mansfield for their willingness to engage in an educational dialogue and continue to try to draw more players into the conversation and ultimately the work ahead.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Louis duPont, chair of the outgoing Robinson Elementary School Board in Starksboro and an active community member.

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