Focus on sustainability continues to drive developments at CHRHS

By Gabriel Blodgett | Jun 15, 2019
Photo by: Gabriel Blodgett Fresh compost piles in front of the windmill at Camden Hills Regional High School.

Rockport — On Thursday May 29, a small selection of members of the Windplanners club gathered in the Industrial Arts wing of Camden Hills Regional High School. The students were working on new compost receptacles to be set up in the cafeteria in the fall, screwing magnets to the rims to catch silverware that occasionally sneaks in with the current models.

The school now composts about 75 gallons of food matter each week according to a presentation on CHRHS energy projects authored by Director of Facilities Keith Rose, who said he would eventually like to see compost from Camden-Rockport Elementary and Middle Schools brought to the high school.

The process of composting, which began at the school in 2018, requires the collaboration of a rotating cast of freshman science students, student compost managers, and buildings and grounds staff, who make sure it is sorted correctly and run it through a shredder before burying it.

With a growing population, “we need to be aware of how much we're using,” said junior Jonathan Mahoney, who joined the group in 2017 and is one of the student compost managers. “We’re approaching a time when resources will become critically important.”

While composting is a current point of emphasis, a focus on sustainability has driven a number of developments at the high school, and increasingly throughout the school district, with students and faculty collaborating on ideas to help lower the school’s energy needs.

One of the key forces behind the move toward greater energy efficiency has been the Windplanners, which formed in 2004, under the supervision of science teacher Rob Lovell, with the goal of building a windmill at the High School. The turbine was finished in 2012, but over the course of the group’s existence, its purpose has grown in scope to include broader ideas related to energy and conservation, said Margo Murphy, who took over for Lovell as both science teacher and advisor in 2011.

The more recent steps toward conservation include expanding the school's photovoltaic solar production from 8,000 to 167,000 Kilowatts and retrofitting LED lights throughout the building, both of which were completed in 2015. According to Rose’s presentation the LED lights provide an approximate annual savings of $23,409 in energy costs, while the solar panels provide an average annual savings of $10,474. The 159,000 KW expansion was purchased with a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement where the school will be able to buy them for $170,000 in 2022, at which point the annual savings will rise to approximately $31,567.

The Windplanners have worked on several projects with Rose, who has served as Director of Facilities for both Five Town CSD and MSAD #28 for 19 years. Rose has a background in the solar industry dating back to the 1980s, and in 1985 won an Award for Energy Innovation from the United States Department of Energy for a system that diverted graywater from showers and used it to heat fresh hot water.

The latest idea he is pursuing to improve efficiency is to capture heat lost in the ventilation system, which Rose said accounts for two-thirds of the school’s energy. Rose said that with modern recovery technology it may be possible to recover up to 75 percent of the lost heat and there is $25,000 allotted in the 2019-2020 Five Town CSD budget for a study.

Other developments at the high school have included water bottle filling stations and shutting down or limiting the usage of several of the 26 step-down transformers which were required for the large amounts of energy necessary to power computers when the school was designed in 1996.

With construction underway at the new Camden-Rockport Middle School, Rose has been less involved with the High School and Windplanners over the last year, but the new building has provided its share of opportunities.

The proximity to the sewage treatment plant has allowed the school to use technology that Rose said “sewer plants for years have done internally.”

In a process that he says is very similar to how a refrigerator works, the treated sewage will be diverted to transfer heat to the opposite side of the heat exchange before being sent back into the harbor several degrees cooler. The heated water will run through pipes below the school to provide heat that Rose said is even more efficient than the ground-source heat pump responsible for heating Camden-Rockport Elementary School.

Rose said that he has been given ample freedom by the administration to look into any potential measures that could reduce the school’s energy usage and added that everyone around the school has been very supportive.

That sentiment was echoed by Murphy who said that teachers have been receptive to the Windplanners ideas and have incorporated themes of climate change and biodiversity into their curricula.

Apart from the direct benefits to the school, junior Annika Charland said the group provides a place for students to have conversations about a broader range of environmental issues and helps them “keep up to date on policy” both locally and nationally.

The group also provides a base for students to embark on projects outside of the club. Murphy said that the members of the group are encouraged to pursue their own unique interests related to energy and conservation, which range from work on food systems to technology. She said that one student installed traffic sensors at the school and Charland said in her freshman science class she worked with the Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee on a study to see how much carbon dioxide could be saved by putting a crosswalk on West Street in front of the High School to make it easier for students to walk to school.

In the upcoming year, both Murphy and Rose said a particular area of focus will be better monitoring of energy usage data to help locate inefficiencies.

When asked whether the Windplanners have considered moving on from their original name to something that represents their broadening goals, Murphy said that although it gets brought up annually, to this point, tradition has won out.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jun 15, 2019 15:14

WOW! Kudos to these students.  I am so happy these teachers are employed at this particular time and place. Their superior knowledge caught the attention of their students and off....Boom!  this is true teaching and students benefit. Not to mention saving hard working taxpayers money.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever 0+:)

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