LAND O' LAKES - On a Wednesday morning last month, someone began the day at one of Pasco County's high schools by setting the air conditioning at a comfortably cool temperature, perfect for the work environment.
Then came the long Fourth of July weekend.
For five days, the chiller blasted cold air into an unoccupied building.
"That money's gone," said Mark Fox, the district's director of maintenance and facilities services. "Goodbye. You're not getting it back."
Fox and his staff are proposing what they see as a better way to manage the energy use at the district's 78 schools, and save the school district much needed dollars in a time of revenue shortages.
Right now, energy settings are controlled by the principal and plant manager at each school.
Fox is proposing that his department take that over, controlling cooling, heating and lighting systems remotely. It can all be done from a laptop computer, he said, at least for 52 of the schools. The others have older systems that are not wired for remote access.
A proposal he presented to the school board at a recent workshop called for 76 degrees as the cooling temperature and 68 degrees as the heating temperature for occupied buildings. System start-up and shut-down schedules would be correlated with school bell times.
No cooling would take place if the outside temperature falls below 65 degrees and no heating would take place if the outside temperature was above 55 degrees.
"We are certainly not trying to make anyone uncomfortable or make anyone hot," Fox said. "We are simply talking about turning them on when they are supposed to go on and turning them off when they are supposed to be off."
That doesn't always happen, he said. It's fairly common to find schools running the air-conditioning at full blast over the weekend when no one is around.
The school board would need to give the maintenance department the authority to take over the energy controls.
Board members haven't made any decisions, but were intrigued by the idea. When Fox mentioned his department's lack of authority over day-to-day energy use, board Vice Chairwoman Alison Crumbley interjected, "Would you like the authority?"
Board member Steve Luikart said Fox is "trying to put some teeth back into the maintenance department."
Energy conservation has been a big topic for the school board this year, especially in light of a budget shortfall that sent district officials scrambling to find ways to cut back on expenses.
In addition to the maintenance department's presentation, the board has heard proposals from two private companies that specialize in making systems more energy efficient.