BENNINGTON, VT. >> Since last May, Hiland Hall School has been making adjustments to its facilities in an effort to cut energy costs by 50 percent through a Deep Retrofit pilot program with Efficiency Vermont.
Five other institutions in Vermont have also pledged the program, including Bennington Early Childhood Center, Casella Waste Systems in Rutland, City of St. Albans, Hannaford Supermarket in Brandon and a multitenant office building in Waitsfield.
With the help of grants and partnerships, Hiland Hall exceeded its goal and achieved a reduction rate of 61 to 68 within the last year through a complete ceiling renovation. A suspended ceiling was constructed, and new ventilation systems and insulation were added to the foundation.
Jim Secor, president of MacDonald-Secor Associates, Inc., said the elementary school is now more efficient than the added-on middle school, which was the complete opposite before last year.
Hiland Hall Director Meg Cottam noted that there was a point when children would have to wear coats inside on cold days because the building's insulation was so bad.
The school was originally a clothing store with a drop ceiling built in the 1970s, Ned Wood of the facilities committee said. Hiland Hall purchased it in 1991, but no major improvements were made to the structure that was essentially a metal building with zero insulation.
Under the pilot program, participants had six months to make changes toward better efficiency. On Tuesday, Efficiency Vermont Director Liz Gamache toured Hiland Hall to check up on the transformation.
"Whether it's a single family residential home looking to make efficiency improvements or a large institutions, there are different challenges and barriers to overcome," Gamache said. "Figuring out how to make the finances work, the technical know-how and expertise on how to put a team together to provide that support and competing priorities. Kudos to everyone for making this happen."
Hiland Hall is the first of the six participants to reach their six-month checkup.
Cottam presented a poster board timeline and slideshow of pictures to Gamache. In May, the school prepared to pack everything up and in June, the family group assisted with moving items into the middle school section so the existing ceiling could be torn down. Children helped by making a wood line to transport blocks into the middle school that is connected.
"You're creating a culture where everyone is involved," Gamache said.
"They [kids] own their learning and they own their space," Cottam replied.
The timeline even illustrated that after the first door blow test, 50 percent efficiency wasn't reached. It wasn't until after the third test that took place on Saturday that the school reached its efficiency goal.
"After the first blow door test, I thought 'we're not going to make 50 percent,' " Secor said.
"It was kind of tough to retrofit a metal building," Bill Morrissey from Weatherization Works said. "The guys weren't used to doing the work in stages, but, I can't wait to implement it again."
In addition to the lack of insulation, the front windows of the school had become foggy with asbestos in which Catamount Environmental Inc. had to perform an abatement.
Teachers even helped by plotting how to store the elementary school items in the middle school temporarily.
Cottam said she has plans to continue efficiency improvements into the middle school and work on the front door.
"We're inspiring our community to keep it going," she said. "The kids compost every day and do daily chores."
The pilot program was developed to give the opportunity to businesses looking to "adopt wide scale efficiency strategies and overhaul their energy usage," according to Efficiency Vermont. Cottam said she doubted that their submission would be considered, but they had talked about the energy issue for years prior.
"We were a wreck and there was a lot to accomplish in a small amount of time," Cottam said. "Keeping an eye on the goal, but without the partners — partners and capital — it wouldn't have happened."
For more information on the pilot program or for tips on how to be more energy efficient, visit EfficiencyVermont.com.
Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at 802-447-7567, ext. 118.