Up Close: Bellflower Unified Lays Groundwork for Sustainability

Bellflower Unified School District (BUSD) has an evident enthusiasm for conservation.  In a short span of one year, BUSD reduced its water consumption by an impressive 7.6 million gallons of water. That’s right, a whopping 7.6 million gallons. “Although water, as a utility cost, is one of our lowest cost, for me it’s our most important resource. We’re not adding water…we can’t produce water,” BUSD Teacher and Energy Specialist Matt LaGrass told Central Basin. Their secret, BUSD has established a culture for conservation and prioritizes sustainability efforts. In 2014, BUSD participated in a Central Basin retrofit grant program that helped the school district save millions of gallons of water. We had an opportunity to talk about the grant retrofit project and its impact with Matt LaGrass, who leads BUSD’s suitability efforts. In his unique role, Matt balances his time teaching mathematics and finding strategies to reduce energy consumption throughout BUSD.  As the Energy Specialist, Matt was heavily involved in the retrofit project, often working after hours and weekends.

“My wife probably didn’t like me for a while because I was gone…and my kids said Dad, Dad who?” laughed Matt. Central Basin had an aggressive schedule to complete the retrofits. The program, funded by the Department of Energy, involved free water use audits and conservation retrofits. This program was notably important for schools as it alleviated financial burdens for utility improvements. Together, Central Basin, BUSD and the project contractor completed retrofits in less than three months, a project which would normally take two years to complete. “In such a short amount of time, it required us to work around the clock.” A total of 17 BUSD sites, including schools and some offices, participated in the grant. “Prior to the retrofit, the grounds weren’t in terrible condition…we had common maintenance issues like broken heads, a few cracked lateral lines for irrigation, all maintenance issues.” However, BUSD had limited resources to address the maintenance issues.  The school district has one irrigation technician, one plumber and one ground manager for 20 sites. The work flow for the irrigation technician was often delayed because he spent more time manually adjusting irrigation schedules rather than providing maintenance. “When you came on board with the smart controllers, it was a huge benefit because with the stand alone clocks, you have to watch each station,” says Matt. “It’s cut a tremendous amount of time...it’s made us more aware of our water usage.” Other retrofits performed on BUSD included toilets, urinals, washers, and thousands of rotating nozzles.   By completing the retrofits, in the span of one-year, BUSD saw a 7% reduction in water use or 10 ccf, equivalent to 7.6 million gallons of water. Matt says the retrofit program fit within the district’s existing commitment to sustainability. “Over five years ago, our district decided to work with Synergistic, it’s an energy and conservation company.” Synergistic’ s main role is to help school districts reduce energy consumption district wide. “Because we’ve had this program in place, we’ve established a culture of conservation—our staff, our students, all the way up to the top-administrators, we’ve had that culture established.” Moving forward, BUSD is looking into creating more sustainability changes, such as replacing lights with LEDs and replacing old thermostats with programmable ones. The school district has already received recognition by Energy Star for their efforts in reducing energy use. Matt advises that in order for conservation programs to succeed, all parties must participate. “It’s a conscious effort by everybody. We were fortunate enough to have everyone on board follow suit and help in any way possible to get it done. There has to be a buy in from everyone.” Beyond saving water, BUSD’s participation in the Central Basin retrofit program sends a larger message to the community. “It’s a matter of modeling, not just to our students but our community, to show them that we’re doing our part to reduce consumption. It’s about saving the planet, it’s about reducing our carbon footprint, it’s about energy conservation, it’s about continuing that culture for generations to come.” Public facilities now have the opportunity to participate in the District’s new retrofit program. For information on the Conservation Retrofit Program, contact Sandi Linares-Plimpton by email sandil@centralbasin.org