Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cranston schools set the bar for energy conservation

September 2, 2010
Cranston Herald
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

EAST HAS ENERGY: Cranston High School East is one of 12 school buildings in the city that has received the Energy Star Conservation award for 2010. Thanks to the school department’s work in energy conservation, many school buildings are receiving updates from $400,000 in federal funding.

All eyes are on the Cranston Public Schools energy program as the new school year begins.

Thanks to the work of the energy management program run by Karen Verrengia and carried out by the custodial staff across the district, CPS has been hailed as a leader in the area of energy conservation, since showing the district a cost savings of more than $2 million from the time the program began in 2006.

Cranston recently received word that 12 CPS buildings have gone through a rigorous qualification and selection process and are slated to receive the prestigious Energy Star Conservation award for 2010.

Those school and district buildings are: Chester W. Barrows, Edgewood Highland, Norwood Avenue, the William A. Briggs building, Sprague School, Edward S. Rhodes, Stone Hill, Daniel Waterman, Western Hills and Park View middle schools; as well as Cranston High Schools East and West.

The Energy Star standard certifies an energy-efficient facility and rates those buildings in the top 25 percent of all facilities nationally, based on the EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating system.

According to Verrengia, two buildings per year received the sought-after award in 2008 and 2009. At the time, the buildings were the first school buildings ever to qualify for the award in Rhode Island.

The buildings that received the awards at that time were Daniel D. Waterman, Chester Barrows and Edgewood Highland Elementary Schools.

“People across the country are tracking what we are doing here in Cranston and they want to know how we’re doing it so that they can do it in their districts too,” said Verrengia, noting that she frequently receives e-mails and phone calls asking for advice on energy management.

Verrengia herself was recently recognized with a merit award for her work in Cranston by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This past summer, six different school buildings across the city qualified for and received needed energy updates from more than $400,000 in federal stimulus money. The buildings are Western Hills Middle School, Cranston High School West, Hugh B. Bain Middle School, George J. Peters Elementary School, Glen Hills Elementary School and Hope Highlands Elementary School.

Some of the projects included lighting system retrofits, and the installation of energy efficient sensors, which regulate heat and electricity. Edward S. Rhodes Elementary School also received a lighting retrofit as part of a separate financing agreement with National Grid.

These updates will show immediate payback in the form of energy cost savings across the district.

In total, 16 buildings will be receiving lighting retrofits with two more on the horizon, utilizing a variety of financing options and grants from National Grid and HUD.

Verrengia noted that Building Operator Certification (BOC) training focuses heavily on energy star qualifications and tracks buildings to make sure they are in line with those qualifications.

“Everything they teach [in BOC] parallels everything I do and try to achieve,” said Verrengia.

Last year, Cranston hosted a Building Operator Certification training class in which several of the district’s building foremen participated along with building operators from outside of Cranston. Verrengia sat in on the trainings.

This year the Rhode Island Association of School Maintenance has asked Cranston to host a re-certification class.

In turn, National Grid has agreed to sponsor the class, which will be held at the Park Cinema. CPS is utilizing an agreement that the city has with the cinema, which allows them to use the cinema for free for events.

The course will take place on Friday, Oct. 29.

Welcome back, Cranston

Cranston Herald
September 2, 2010

All text and photos by Jen Cowart

A WARM WELCOME: Sixth-grader Chris Shorey, a new student at Glen Hills, walks down to his classroom with Commissioner Gist and Principal DeCristofaro.

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist loves the first week of school.

“The first week of school is my absolute favorite time of the year. It’d be impossible for me to stay away from classrooms during the first week,” she said on Tuesday as she toured Glen Hills Elementary School.

Gist said she wanted to be in the Cranston schools for the first day of school, and that Superintendent Peter Nero was very welcoming when she phoned and asked him if she could spend some time with the Cranston students.

Chester Barrows first-grader Claire Dancause and her big sister, Annemarie Dancause in third grade, had the opportunity, along with their mother, to walk to school with Commissioner Gist and Superintendent Nero.

Gist met the family at their home and took the daily walk to school with them. Once at Barrows, she spent nearly an hour in the schoolyard, greeting Barrows students and their families on their first morning back.

“She spent about 45 minutes visiting with parents and talking to them,” said Principal Paul Heatherton. “It was a great way to start off the school year.”

From there, Gist and Nero headed over to join the Glen Hills Elementary School community as their families began the school day. Gist spent time greeting the families in the lobby and then took a tour of the building, stopping into several classrooms along the way.

As she walked, she spoke to Principal Jay DeCristofaro about several of the school’s programs, including the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports program (PBIS), which integrates positive school behaviors with the prevention of bullying. Many of the school’s teachers participated in intensive PBIS training over the summer.

Gist stopped to speak to classrooms and visited with individual students, kneeling down next to them and asking about what they were working on. She also made time to meet and greet some of the students who were new to the school in each of the classrooms they visited, asking them where they were from and if they were excited about the new school year.

As she walked from room to room, Gist would stop and introduce herself to teachers and students who were passing in the hallways, complimenting them on their behavior or wishing them a good first day of school.

When she visited Jody Joseph’s first grade classroom, Gist told the students how lucky they were to be in a classroom filled with books, as she loves to read.

As she spoke to the third-graders in Michelle Cornelia’s class, Gist was sure to spread the word though, about what she considers to be the most important job of all: being a teacher.

“Most importantly, I used to be a fifth grade teacher,” she told them.

Both Nero and DeCristofaro, who are former CPS teachers, welcomed Gist to join them in any one of the Cranston classrooms, any time she gets the urge to teach a lesson in the future.