It was little things that saved a lot

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It was the little things that Steve Bench did—snooping around supposed-to-be-dark classrooms and leaving notes pasted to left-on computers—that kept the Decatur County School System from spending more than $1 million over a three-year period.

As Bench reported to the Board of Education members last Thursday night, the school board, and thus the taxpayers, didn’t have to fork over an estimated $1 million because they didn’t have to pay utility companies for the electricity, gas or water they didn’t use.

Saving $1 million was a four-year goal that he and the schools achieved early, Bench said in an earlier interview.

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According to Bench, the school board used July 2005 energy usage as the base year. Each month subsequently, Bench would receive a copy of each school’s electric, natural gas and water and sewer bills.

Then the work began. He would “audit” each school once a week.

Light ballast on vending machines were removed.

Twist-timers on a school gym’s gas heater was installed so the heater stayed on only within a certain time. That reduced the natural gas bill at that one school by 70 percent, Bench said.

Communications was established between Georgia Power and Bench, so when a spike in energy prices was predicted, Bench told each schools’ maintenance department to cut back on usage, especially during summer months.

And then there were the times that Bench would be wandering the halls of schools after hours.

“It’s not unusual for me to be in schools at midnight,” Bench said.

He would turn down the heaters during cold night or turn up the air-conditioners on hot days.

He would turn off computers, then leave a home-made note on it.

Bench—the “kilowatt cop” to some—was hired to implement the school board’s energy policy, which is based on a program that 700 other school systems throughout the United States are using.

Teachers are rewarded because the savings goes into an annuity that will eventually be awarded to the teachers, Bench said.

“That’s a big incentive,” he said.

Bench said teachers are in fact committed. He was assisting someone with their car. A teacher happened to pass by and asked if he was the guy who checks the energy consumption at the schools.

He said he was, and she then proceeded to tell him about a leaky faucet at her school. It was fixed shortly after.

“There is a total commitment in the whole system,” Bench said.