Richmond Co. schools target minifridges

A cold and power-hungry device so treasured by school employees that it's often found hidden under desks or disguised is being targeted for removal in Richmond County.

It's the coveted minifridge, and in Richmond County schools about 240 of the personal appliances were recently found in an audit. As part of an energy-saving initiative started a year ago, a conservation team has been going from school to school, and to the system's main office on Broad Street, seeking to remove the minifridges, along with microwaves and electric heaters.

Doors left open and lights being left on also are being targeted, but the minifridge has been the focus, with school board members considering a policy against them.

"We're looking under every rock possible," Lawson Hobbs, an energy conservation team member, told school board members. "We're trying to visit every school now."

Mr. Hobbs has asked the school board to adopt a policy against minifridge use except for in clinics, labs, special ed classes and teachers lounges. Any exceptions, he said, should require approval by the senior director of facilities.

Board members asked Superintendent Dana Bedden to craft a policy, and he said he would present something to the board at Tuesday's 6 p.m. meeting.

Mr. Hobbs said there could be more minifridges than those found in the audit.

"People are creative in how they disguise them," he said, noting that sometimes the minifridges are hidden under desks or covered with contact paper or a throw cover.

Mr. Hobbs told board members each minifridge costs the system about $40 per year in electricity, or about $9,600 total.

Officials have said they would like to save more than $1.6 million out of $6.5 million spent annually on utilities, $4.7 million of which is on electricity.

Mr. Hobbs said he didn't have an estimate on possible savings.

Board member Barbara Pulliam said any effort at energy savings should include the system's Broad Street headquarters.

"If you're going to do it, do it all over," she said.

On Friday, the conservation team did just that, visiting offices throughout the building.

Officials are also trying to get schools to cut down on vending machines, which cost about $400 each annually in energy expenses, board members were told. There are 127 vending machines in the school system.

Doors left open, officials said, cost $5 an hour each in lost heating or cooling.

The conservation team also is replacing some manual thermostats with programmable digital versions that lock and are set to turn on and off at certain times.

Temperatures recently became a topic of discussion after some board members heard that classrooms are kept at 68 degrees in the winter and 78 in the summer because of state guidelines. Some members said 68 is too cool, but they were quickly told that to increase the temperature by just 2 to 4 degrees would cost the system an extra $70,000 a year.

Dr. Bedden reminded board members how energy savings have helped in the past amid tight budgets. He noted how the system was able to be $4.4 million under budget last year, which meant two fewer furlough days than called for by the governor.

"A big chunk of that was changing how we do business with energy," he said. "So we saved people two days of furlough by following recommended temperatures."

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

The Impact

Richmond County school officials are working to cut more than $1.6 million out of the system's annual $6.5 million utility bill, which includes $4.7 million for electricity.

240: Minifridges found during an audit of Richmond County schools and the main office
$9,600: Yearly energy cost for 240 minifridges (at a yearly cost of $40 each)

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