City, school district to amp up conservation efforts

Last month, a joint meeting between the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education and the Claremont City Council centered on ways the city and Claremont schools can work together to create a greener town.
At the September 8 meeting—held in the Padua Room of the Alexander Hughes Community Center and drawing some 20 attendees—Claremont City Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Chris Veirs discussed some of the energy-saving measures undertaken by the city.
He cited placement of solar panels at the City Yard, various lighting retrofit projects, the adoption of occupancy sensors at city facilities and the conversion of city vehicles from diesel power to natural gas. He shared that Claremont now boasts four public electrical vehicle-charging stations, whose hourly charging fees are yielding the city an average of $350 per month.
In light of the ongoing drought and escalating water costs, water conservation is another priority.
Mr. Veirs said the city is planning to modernize its outdated irrigation system. Another emphasis is reducing the amount of turf on city property. For instance, one upcoming project will involve the replacement of a grass-heavy median in front of Claremont High School with one that will feature water-wise plants and that can capture rainwater run-off for irrigation.
Mr. Veirs also took a moment to detail the city’s commitment to a big-stakes eco-competition: the $5 million Georgetown University Prize (GUP).
Claremont is among 53 communities that have been selected to move onto the quarterfinals of the two-year contest, which encourages US cities to come up with sustainable ways to conserve electricity and natural gas. The city that wins the prize must not only find creative ways to shrink its carbon footprint but also manage to galvanize the entire community in its efforts.
CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lisa Shoemaker took to the podium next, sharing some of the ways the district has been working to conserve energy and engage students in ecological sustainability.
In 2009, the district embarked on a 4-year contract with Cenergistic, an energy management company whose services included an energy audit of all Claremont school sites as well as the provision of a software program tracking energy utilization. Cenergistic advised CUSD on how to benefit from utilities’ incentive programs and gave suggestions for behavior modification, with the philosophy being that every little bit counts.
The district also hired Ralph Patterson, who before his retirement was CUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services, as a part-time energy specialist for Claremont schools. Among other duties, he works to ensure district staffers are conserving in ways that once might have been overlooked. For example, refrigerators and computer labs should be unplugged during school breaks and light timers adjusted for daylight savings.
Mr. Patterson was a natural choice for the hire, Ms. Shoemaker explained in an interview with the COURIER on Wednesday.
“He knows all of our facilities. He knows all of our staff and he already knew the school sites,” she said.
Under Mr. Patterson’s leadership, the district has participated in Southern California Edison’s lighting retrofit program and, like the city, district buildings now have lighting sensors.
With the help of Mr. Patterson and eager CUSD staffers, the collaboration between the district and Cenergistic has shown some exciting dividends.
“In the first year, we saw about a 20 percent reduction in kilowatt hour usage,” Ms. Shoemaker said.
The district’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. The district-wide conservation has led to CUSD being dubbed an Energy Star partner by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Claremont schools are also looking for ways to save water, she noted. Several schools are now using “cyber rain” sprinklers, which can be controlled remotely and whose watering schedules can be adjusted based on weather conditions.
 Students are also embracing sustainability, Ms. Shoemaker noted, citing some of the ways the topic is being woven into CUSD curricula. These include the biomes—four distinct natural habitats—that have been created at Oakmont Outdoor School and which form a basis for students’ study of the natural world. All of the elementary schools are getting involved in recycling, most notably Vista del Valle, which last year won the Grades of Green Trash Free Lunch Challenge and an accompanying $1,000 prize by reducing lunchtime trash by a remarkable 90 percent.
The students did so by using reusable lunch containers and sorting compostable and recyclable materials. Oakmont is also a Grades of Green participant and, this year, Mountain View has taken up the trash-reduction challenge.
Claremont teens are also getting stoked on living green, as evinced by a burgeoning environmental club and the institution of an AP Environmental Science class at Claremont High School and the popularity of the Food Justice Program at San Antonio High School.

Working hand-in-hand
Mayor Joe Lyons spoke next, reiterating the city’s determination to aim high for the Georgetown University Prize.
A large part of the competition involves community-wide engagement, he emphasized, with 10 percent stemming from the efforts of local K-12 schools and colleges. In a prize-winning community, schools will not only conserve electricity and gas but also spearhead outreach programs to get CUSD families and residents at large espousing a less-is-more attitude.
When it comes to energy-efficiency, Mr. Lyons said the collaboration between the city and the district is a natural one that, with planning, can lead to cost savings. He hopes that such cooperative endeavors can be amplified as Claremont keeps its eye on the prize.
The city’s next step is to complete a detailed plan for energy-use reduction, to be submitted on November 10.
Georgetown University Prize (GUP) guidelines note “these should be long-term plans, with commitments by residential associations, governments, institutions or businesses in the community to policies and projects that will yield continual improvement.” Competitors may also apply for seed grants to help implement their plans, according to the GUP website.  
“We see it as a huge opportunity in the city to really galvanize the town around the entire question of sustainability,” Freeman Allen, chair of Sustainable Claremont said. “We’re going to be reaching out very soon—probably in the next two weeks—to the top leadership at the schools, from the superintendent to the board. We are really hoping for a full engagement throughout the school district coming from the top.”
Sustainable Claremont is creating a committee whose focus is for the Georgetown University Prize. The group will have an executive committee as well as a board of advisers. Anyone interested in serving on the advisory board, whether they be a representative from the school district, the Claremont Colleges, the business community or the community as a whole, should email Mr. Allen at info@sustainable
Mr. Allen said that the group plans to organize a forum through which people, including students, can share their ideas for conservation and education.
“While I certainly want to encourage the use of recycling, that is not the specific focus of this competition. This prize specifically centers around energy efficiency within residences and municipal buildings,” he said.
The competition represents an exciting opportunity, according to Devon Hartmon, executive director of the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit (CHERP) committee.
“Georgetown University has nailed it in terms of what we need to do to address the final existing hurdles to massive energy efficiency throughout the city,” he said. “This focus will shine the light on and hopefully help cities across the country solve this education and awareness problem that is keeping us from getting energy efficiency retrofits of buildings to scale.”
Students can make a big difference, Mr. Hartman noted.
“There’s a lot that can be done with energy efficiency around kids—very real activities such as counting up types of light bulbs and the amount of wattages in the house and doing some calculation to see what kind of savings can be gleaned by switching to new LED bulbs,” Mr. Hartman said.  
Should the city take the prize, some of that money will likely go to the school district to fund ongoing educational initiatives around sustainability, according to Mr. Hartman.
CUSD is enthusiastic about cooperating with the city on this venture, according to school board member Steven Llanusa.
“We’re looking forward to engaging parents and families in this effort as well as taking additional steps to increase the energy savings we have already realized, which are pretty considerable,” he said.
—Sarah Torribio


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