Energy Conservation Program at Washington Elementary School District


By Sue Pierce

Washington Elementary School District (WESD), located in northwest Phoenix and eastern Glendale, is the largest elementary school district in the state. The District has 32 school campuses and three support facilities, which equates to approximately three million square feet of space under roof. The District serves a diverse population of 23,500 students, and has 28 of 32 campuses designated as Title I schools because of the large numbers of economically disadvantaged students and families in the attendance areas.

In 2008, with a depressed economy, lowering property tax values, and a reduction in state funds to support education, WESD launched an initiative to reduce energy use, and in turn pay fewer dollars to utility companies. As a result of its great success with its energy program, additional opportunities have come to the District.


LM_RED_Award-resizeEnergy is a big ticket item for WESD, and prior to the energy program, the District was spending over $5 million annually as a result of rising energy costs. In fact, utilities was – and still is – the District’s largest, controllable, non-personnel expenditure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DoE) advertised that a school district could reduce energy use by over 10 percent just by changing behaviors. WESD decided to test this statistic.

In fall 2008, WESD launched an energy-behavior-management program to encourage staff and students to change habits and reduce energy use in buildings. The results at the end of 24 months were astounding: a reduction in electric energy usage of over 26 percent. This equates to a savings of approximately 17 million kilowatt hours (kWh)! You may ask the question: “What extra costs did the District incur to create this reduction?” The answer is none! Since the launch of the program, the District has continued to look for ways to reduce energy use and become more sustainable.


• WESD reduced its solid waste contract from $250,000 to $125,000.

• WESD earned approximately $80,000 by selling recycled goods that in the past were thrown in the trash.

• 25 WESD campuses qualified for ENERGY STAR Building Recognition one or more years since the District began participating in the program in FY 2009, with 9 qualifying every year.

WESD was scheduled to take three “furlough days” to balance the budget during FY 2011. In November 2010, Superintendent Cook sent an email to all 3,200 staff stating that, because of the amazing work they had done reducing energy use in the schools and the savings that had resulted, the furlough days would be canceled.

• An outdoor water conservation pilot project was conducted at Washington Elementary School. Outside irrigation was reduced by 40 percent during the summer 2012 versus summer 2011. Water costs were reduced by $18,000.

• Solar thermal installations were constructed at Mountain View and Sunnyslope Schools. Solar is now heating all kitchen water.

• The Lookout Mountain Elementary School opened with many sustainable features. A closed-loop ground-source geothermal HVAC system was used in over 50 percent of the building and reduces electric use by over 30 percent. This was the first large geothermal installation in a K-12 school in the Phoenix area.

Washington Elementary School District continues to move ahead with its energy and sustainability program and with efforts to reduce operating costs within the District.

To learn more about these programs, please contact Sue Pierce at 480-773-0035 or

Sue Pierce is the founder/CEO of Pierce Energy Planning.

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