The Greening of the High School

Sweeping high-tech upgrades save the district energy and money
Eric Woellhof, the director of facilities, seen here on the high school roof with Anthony DeFino
Eric Woellhof, the director of facilities, seen here on the high school roof with Anthony DeFino, a colleague, has instigated initiatives that have led to the district receiving a rebate from the Long Island Power Authority. Morgan McGivern

    It’s a little warm in the office of Eric Woellhof, the East Hampton School District’s director of facilities. No matter, Mr. Woellhof just turns to his computer, which features on its monitor something akin to the plans for the Death Star, pushes a few keys, and the temperature comes down from 74 to 70 degrees almost instantly.
    “The system monitors air quality,” he explained. “It turns up the heat — or the air-conditioning — before school begins, and shuts it off afterward. If the CO2 builds up in a room, like if there’s a lot of people in there, it automatically senses it, and the vents open to let in fresh air.” He grinned. “It’s monitoring us right now.”
    This is not your father’s maintenance man: a tough guy in a jumpsuit, somewhere between a custodian and a cop, a thousand keys jingling from his belt as he roams the halls of the building.
    Mr. Woellhof has the keys on his belt, but the similarities stop there. This job requires as much heavy reading as it does heavy lifting.
    Over the past five years, it’s been Mr. Woellhof’s task to work with the architect during renovations and to upgrade the school district’s systems — heating, vents, and air-conditioning, as well as the health and safety of the buildings and grounds — so that they are energy-efficient and meet the district’s “green” goals.
    A rebate check from the Long Island Power Authority for $212,000 is just the beginning of cost savings the district is realizing with the new initiatives that have been put into place.
    Having Anthony DeFino on board has helped. Mr. DeFino had worked for Carrier, the company that installed the new H.V.A.C. system in the high school, but retired to join Mr. Woellhof.
    “It’s a nice change of pace,” Mr. DeFino said.
    “My background was construction management,” Mr. Woellhof said. He worked for the Miller Place School District before coming to East Hampton, and was on the ground floor, so to speak, for discussions on the $80-million renovations to the John M. Marshall Elementary School, the East Hampton Middle School, and the East Hampton High School.
    “The first talks we had were about what would be green,” he said. “The old system was the way most school districts are,” Mr. Woellhof said. “Time clocks, manual controls.”
    The goal was to meet or exceed the recommendations of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, a non-profit organization that sets the standards for energy-efficient learning institutions. The idea, according to the C.H.P.S. Web site, is that “a well-designed facility can truly enhance performance and make education more enjoyable and rewarding” for students, faculty, and staff.
    The H.V.A.C. system at the East Hampton High School was key to obtaining a green designation. It is a leviathan, with “hundreds of zones,” Mr. Woellhof said.
    “In the high school alone, there are over 70 pieces of equipment — belts, pullies, filters, bearings,” he said.
    The computer system sends out alarms when a filter needs to be changed, which is a crucial part of keeping the air quality top-notch and the machinery running at peak efficiency. The alarms, to keep everything effortless, are sent to Mr. Woellhof’s cellphone.
    How big a deal can it be to change a couple of filters? Mr. Woellhof explained. “A big piece of equipment can have 8 to 12 filters going in, maybe 8 to 12 inside, then another 8 to 12 going out,” he said. The school district spends between $15,000 and $20,000 just for filters, but it’s necessary, Mr. Woellhof said.
    “It maintains the air indoors,” he said. “There have been several scares about mold and so on. But when an outside test was conducted, there were more pollen and mold spores outside than in here.” He called it “a stark contrast.”
    It also saves on the amount of electricity needed. A clean filter runs cleanly. A dirty one requires more effort by the system to push through the air. “It cuts down on labor, too,” he said.
    The computer system itself cuts down on labor, as it modifies its own behaviors according to what it does and doesn’t do. “It’s called an ‘adaptive optimal start-stop,’ ” Mr. Woellhof explained, then smiled. “It means the computer is learning.”
    There has also been an overhaul of custodial practices. “The scrubbers use minimal water,” Mr. Woellhof pointed out. “We use green chemicals for cleaning inside all three schools, and the grounds use no pesticides,” he said.
    But the biggest payback, the gift that keeps on giving, are the changes in the lights and other LIPA programs, which Mr. Woellhof and his team have acted upon, including installing a white roof on the high school.
    “I don’t think people realize how much they would save with white roofs,” he said. The district got a rebate check for $18,000 just for that one alteration. For replacing the “chillers” on the roof — Mr. DeFino’s bailiwick — the district received $84,000 back from LIPA, “about three-quarters of the price of one of them,” Mr. Woellhof said.
    LIPA has been very helpful, he acknowledged. With its assistance, Mr. Woellhof has been able to break down the cost of changing one room — the high school auditorium — into an energy efficient Eden.
    “The floodlights in there now are 90 watts,” he said. He held up the new model, a similar-looking bulb, but with an output of only 17 watts, the compact fluorescent cousin of the incandescent. “When we install these, it’s a 75-percent savings. It will save between $2,000 and $2,500 a year for that room alone,” he said, not without excitement in his voice. “And the schools here are loaded with 90-watt bulbs.”
    He stood on his desk and removed a light fixture to show the bulbs inside. “Just this fixture is a rebate of $120,” he said. “The schools are full of them.”
    Mr. Woellhof makes it his job to continue to look for new incentives that will reduce energy use and save money, including solar panels, reclaiming water from the roof, and many other future possibilities.
    For now, he wants to finish getting the elementary and middle school up to high-energy snuff. “Those rebates were just for the high school,” he said. How much more of a rebate could be expected from the other buildings?
    “At least $38,000,” he said. “There are so many items that haven’t been included yet — exit signs, light fixtures.” Then, still pushing the limits, he said, “I don’t know — if it came back at another $50,000, that would be pretty cool.”


In 1906, the NYS Public Service Commission was formed to prevent companies like LIPA from giving rebates. Why? Discrimination, among other things like price fixing. Rebates are used to strengthen the firm's position against competitors. They are no longer regulated. Contact your legislators (i.e. jay schneiderman) for some enforcement of these old laws. Oh, they just raised your rates to pay for this (See from .58 cents to .62 per kW. Thanks for nothing LIPA.