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Durham schools' conservation contest yields big savings

Durham Public Schools officials say the contest saved more energy than an elementary school uses in a year. The school that saved the most energy got to enjoy a cash reward.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Durham Public Schools held a competition among its 45 schools to see which could conserve the most energy and save the most cash.

Bethesda Elementary School took home the prize – $2,000, which represents a certain percentage of the money the school saved the system.

"They said if you're willing to work hard with us to save money, we're willing to share some of the savings with you," Principal Doris Walker said.

Overall, 13 schools saved nearly $100,000 in energy costs last year. That represents more power than is needed to run an elementary school for a year, school officials said.

At Bethesda Elementary, creating those big savings took the help of everyone, Walker said.

"We have about 650 students and a staff of about 100, so when everybody starts thinking about it, it makes a big difference," she said.

The school got a new energy-efficient chiller, but also made smaller changes that added up: keeping outside doors closed and using fewer lights when possible.

"We have skylights, so we don't always have to have our hallway lights on," Walker said. "The gym lights take up a lot of energy. They're very powerful lights. So if we can run one bank, instead of three banks, that makes sense."

Teachers incorporated the energy-saving message into their lesson plans, challenging students to recall the steps they have taken and why. Students said they're taking that message home.

"When you turn off the lights at school, you can turn off the lights at your house," second-grader Jussaiya Baptist said.

"Don't really use the air conditioning. You can open the window. Don't waste it," second-grader Ricky Council said.

Walker said she hopes these energy conservation lessons last a lifetime.

"These are very impressionable years, and if we can teach 5-, 7- and 10-year-olds, we've got them for life," she said. "That's my goal."


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