Jennings Creek Elementary named most energy efficient school in Kentucky

Students walk through the hallway on the first day of classes Aug. 8 at Jennings Creek Elementary School.

Jennings Creek Elementary is the most energy-efficient school in Kentucky, and the second nationwide, according to the Warren County Public School District.

School board officials and the architect behind the building made the announcement Saturday during the Kentucky School Boards Association conference in Louisville.

“We’re in climate zone four, and the average school would use an (Energy Use Intensity) of 73 … (but) we’ve gotten it down to 15.5, which we never thought would be possible,” Kenny Stanfield, principal architect at Sherman, Carter, Barnhart Architects LLC, said Friday.

An Energy Use Intensity serves as an indicator of a building’s energy efficiency by dividing the total amount of energy the building consumed in one year by its total gross floor area.

Chris McIntyre, the district’s chief financial officer, said WCPS takes “great pride” in its energy conservation efforts.

“A, it’s good for the environment, B, it’s a good opportunity to educate our kids and C, it saves us money in our operating budget each year,” McIntyre said Friday.

He added that the school with the lowest EUI nationwide is in Virginia and does not stay open year-round like Jennings Creek.

Nonetheless, the accomplishment means the school is saving money due to the low cost of converting energy, which Stanfield said is the result of strategies compiled over 10 years since designing Richardsville Elementary School.

When it opened in 2010, Richardsville Elementary was dubbed the first-ever net zero school in America, meaning it virtually runs at no cost because it creates as much energy as it consumes.

A large part of that consumption comes from solar panels, Stanfield said, which were added to several schools last year, along with underground geothermal systems and energy-efficient lighting as part of the district’s $30 million Guaranteed Energy Savings Project.

These design aspects will also be used in the construction of Cumberland Trace Elementary (expected to open in 2021) and Rich Pond Elementary, which is set to open the following year.

“We (will also) use insulated concrete forms for the building structure, and have (done so) ever since Richardsville, which is basically like giant styrofoam legos that you stack together and fill with concrete and rebar steel,” Stanfield said.

“It’s an amazing product for insulation, storm resistance because of its strength, and then it has a high thermal mass … (meaning) it’s actually absorbing energy slowly during the day and then it releases it at night.”

This method saves energy in a climate like that of Bowling Green where temperatures are normally higher during the day than at night, Stanfield explained.

Moreover, the orientation of Jennings Creek capitalizes on natural light, contains a dual cafeteria and auditorium, and has transformed “circulation” areas into small group study or extended learning spaces, according to Stanfield.

He also added that all WCPS schools are saving energy by getting rid of grease-producing gadgets in commercial kitchens like a skillet or deep fryer.

Stanfield and WCPS Board of Education President Kerry Young shared those strategies at the KSBA conference during a talk titled “21E,” which stands for 21st Century Education and 21st Century Energy.

Young said the design aspects they use “can save money on the back end in your energy, that does not cost a lot of money on the front end.”

The price to construct the 90,000-square-foot Jennings Elementary that can hold up to 750 people was no higher than the cost to build a “conventional” school, according to Stanfield, and it was less than the state education department’s model program cost.

“(And) an energy bill for a school the size of Jennings Creek or Rich Pond is gonna be well in excess of $200,000,” Stanfield said. “So if you can save 75 percent of that just by the way you design the building, that’s an enormous amount of money that can be saved.”

Stanfield estimates that Jennings Creek has saved more than $250,000 in energy bills since opening last year, and he believes Warren County will save more than $3.6 million over the 20-year bond.

Those savings will be put back into the district with help from a new “Energy Committee” that McIntyre says will be formed by this spring.

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