AURORA | Each school building in America has at least one flickering light that’s the bane of every student and teacher’s existence.
That nuisance will soon be a thing of the past in the Cherry Creek School District, which is in the process of transitioning over to LED lighting. The lights won’t flicker, can be brightened and dimmed and will automatically turn off if nobody is in the room, making for a better and more high-tech learning environment.
The new lights are part of a suite of infrastructure upgrades being implemented by Johnson Controls that will reduce Cherry Creek’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from its 2021 baseline and save the district at least $20 million over the next two decades.
“It’s massive — to reach a 25% reduction in one project, it’s a huge impact,” said Jenny Stentz, a Johnson Controls vice president and general manager.
The district got a jump start on Earth Day, launching the project with a ribbon cutting Tuesday morning at Overland High School and Prairie Middle School where district leadership toured a classroom where the new, energy-efficient lights had already been installed.
Construction is underway and will take place in phases over the next three years in 88 district buildings, with all work scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2024. Infrastructure upgrades have been tailored to the needs of each building, and along with lighting, will include upgrades to heating, ventilation, air conditioning and computer systems.
The upgrades will reduce water costs by almost 20% annually and reduce computer energy use by 25% to 30%, according to the district, and will put Cherry Creek on track to beat the emissions reductions goals Gov. Jared Polis announced last year.
The Colorado legislature passed a bill in 2021 requiring commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet to reduce emissions by 7% by 2026 and 20% by 2030, from a 2021 baseline. With these upgrades, the district is expected to reach those targets six years early.
First gentleman Marlon Reis was at the ribbon cutting, where he praised the district for being ahead of the curve.
“You are leading the way and becoming a model for school districts across the state,” he said.
David Henderson, Cherry Creek’s deputy chief of operations, said that the project is a “win-win” for the district: it saves money, conserves natural resources and creates a better learning environment for students.
Stentz said that the project was spearheaded by district superintendent Chris Smith and CFO/COO Scott Smith, who was intentional in making sure that the upgrades would not only pay for themselves but be a net financial gain for the district.
The district has a 20 year contract with Johnson Controls, and is guaranteed to save at least $1 million each year, Stentz said. The design-build contract is for $69 million.
The initial construction costs are funded with savings from the district’s general fund, said Johnson Controls general manager Scott Avirett. No net dollars will be spent out of the general fund.
Most schools that do projects like this have to approach the community for a bond, Stentz said, but this will allow the district to avoid asking taxpayers for money and save them money in the long run.
In about a year and a half, online “green dashboards” will be put in place at each school where students can monitor in real time the energy usage in their buildings and track how much energy is being saved compared to the old system.
The dashboards will be used to help make the effects of the upgrades visible to students, and can be used as a learning tool by teachers, district leaders said.
Once again, the progressive school district.