Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The increase was almost entirely at the ‘rate’ level, rather than the ‘use’ level. Which means that unless we have a really mild winter, we’re hosed. And while any given winter may or may not be relatively mild, over the years, there will be some nasty ones.
Since we aren’t in a part of the country that’s awash in money – Wyoming is looking better and better – we can’t just dip into the magical replenishing money pot and either pay the bills without incident or rebuild the campus to be greener. Yes, we consider energy efficiency on those rare occasions when we can build, but in between, there are real limits to what we can realistically do. (This is especially true given the age of many of the main buildings.) And the weather will do what it will do.
Community colleges generally are in an awkward position when it comes to energy use. Most cc’s don’t have dorms, which is both good and bad. It’s good in the sense that we have fewer buildings to heat, cool, and maintain, but it’s bad in the sense that a true measure of our carbon footprint includes students commuting to and from campus. (In four years in the dorms at Snooty Liberal Arts College, I never had a car, but I never missed a class.) We generally don’t have the massive athletics facilities or student life compounds, either. What we do have is essential, and therefore devilishly hard to cut. And since our per-student aid (and tuition) is much lower than our counterparts’, our extra efficiency carries no payoff. It’s simply assumed as a baseline. When you’re already running with minimal slack, external shocks are that much harder to absorb.
(To make matters worse, our operating aid is actually being cut at the same time. Income down, expenses up. Double ouch. And don’t even get me started on health insurance…)
This kind of money is particularly hard to come by, since it doesn’t typically attract the attention of philanthropists. (“These BTU’s brought to you by…”) It has to come out of the operating budget, which is the same budget that pays salaries (and repels donors). We can’t float bond issues for operating expenses. Politicians are sometimes willing to throw ‘capital’ money our way – that is, construction – but operating budgets are largely considered our problem. How, exactly, we’re supposed to use those buildings goes unaddressed.
Administrators catch a lot of flak for championing online classes, but honestly, if we were to move the Saturday classes online and shut down the classroom buildings on Saturdays, that would save a meaningful chunk of change. It’s not ideal, of course, but neither is cutting a half-dozen positions to pay the gas bill.
Another way to save is conservation: One district in particular has been agressive at powering down (shutting off lights when a classroom/office isn't being used, unplugging refridgerators for the weekend, shutting down unused PCs, etc). They managed to save 100K in just agressively switching things off.
It's not much, but when you're getting hosed by utility costs, the first step is aggressive conservation, the second is to rethink infrastructure.
However, despite that emphasis, our buildings are still too cold in the summer, often colder than the dewpoint outside. They might be doing it to keep humidity (and mold) down, but wearing a sweater in summer is nuts.
You can float a bond issue to do construction that fixes leaky buildings. It is even money that goes back into the local economy and gives immediate payback in lower utility costs. (Will make your tuition dollar go further.) We get a tiny amount of capital maintenance money each year from the state, which might be another angle to take if the legislature is interested in economic stimulus.
Nevertheless, in North America we certainly don't have as many auto-shutoffs as in Europe, where apartment buildign corridors are even often unlit.
* Closing everything on Friday afternoons in the summer. (So popular, it became a permanent feature of summer scheduling.)
* Reducing lighting. It got a little weird/dim in our office, but as it turned out it was sort of cozy with the lower light.
* Choosing not to re-open a pool that had been closed for other reasons. Someone told me that it accounted for something like a quarter of the school's heating costs.
I know there was other stuff, but the particulars escape me now. I'm sure it's painful to find money for an environmental assessment, but it's possible it'll pay for itself.
I'm quite sympathetic, having worked in a building where the heating and cooling couldn't have been fixed without tearing apart concrete walls & pillars. You KNOW it's wasting money if you need a coat in the summer (and a tank top in the winter!) to cope with the climate control system.
Big Texas High School (BTHS) was facing a funding crisis. Millage failed, cossts increased, etc. What to cut? They already had parents paying extra to participate in Band, clubs, etc. There just wasn't enough money to go around. Oddly enough, during the school year everyting was fine until the Boosters Club met in March to plan next year's Football budget only to find the cupboard was bare.
But only for about a day!
(p.s. if you don't think this strategy would work for you, think again. In the federal government, on military installations, commanders will cut the base hospital funds first. That hits the retirees hard and early. They have their elected representatives on speed dial.)
The Moral Of The Story: Every Publicly Funded Organization Has A Football Team.
The trick is finding out just exactly what your "Football Team" is.