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Conservation saves schools millions

Lee Kulman, the part-time energy manager for Evanston/Skokie District 65, has a $2.8 million secret.

“Once a habit is created, it keeps going,” Kulman says.


Lee Kulman, the part-time energy manager for Evanston/Skokie District 65, has a $2.8 million secret.

“Once a habit is created, it keeps going,” Kulman says.

He’s talking about energy consumption habits. Simple things like waiting to turn on gymnasium lights until students are in the gym. Or making sure a building isn’t fully heated during off hours. Even turning off a soda machine’s display lights adds up.

But to $2.8 million?

That, Kulman says, is the offset in the district’s budget since 1997, when his position began and the district started working with a company that audits energy usage. That company, Energy Education, Inc., examined every district building –- and the habits of the people in those buildings –- and made recommendations that resulted in lower electricity, water and natural gas usage. Many of the suggestions required no further investment from the district.

“Their program has never been about capital improvements,” Kulman says, referring to Energy Education.

But, to be sure, there have been some needed capital investments. For example, one of the first projects was to install time clocks on urinals to set them on a regular flushing schedule. That’s a large reason why water consumption dropped by almost 30 percent – according to charts that he prepared – in Kulman’s first year.

And, of course, there is the cost of Energy Education’s services, which doesn’t figure in to the offset. Kulman says he is not sure the precise figure, but says it’s less than $500,000. In addition to four years of energy audits, the fee includes perpetual support and training at no additional cost.

These days, Kulman’s work is more about accountability than big projects. He scrutinizes monthly utility bills, and works with custodians and maintenance staff to determine the reasons for large spikes in consumption.

And there’s always more work to do on individual consumption habits.

“I can’t always be there to turn the lights off,” Kulman says. “You have to get people to buy into it.”

But that’s also the reward for Kulman, who also teaches industrial arts at Haven Elementary.

“That’s what makes it fun,” Kulman says. “Seeing people do all those little things.”

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