In the middle of one of the mildest winters Holliston has seen in years, Holliston High School has used less than 40%* of the $115,515 fuel budget for fiscal year 2017 (fiscal year 2017 is defined as October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017).
In fiscal year 2016, the school spent over $94,000 and in fiscal year 2015, over $150,000 on fuel alone. If the school is spending around $100,000 on heating every year, why are students still so cold?
“This is a very inefficient building to heat,” said Dr. Bradford Jackson, Holliston Superintendent of Schools.
HHS first opened in 1969 and the last renovation was in 2001. In that renovation, which Dr. Jackson called “primarily cosmetic,” builders replaced all the floors, replaced the bathroom fixtures, put on a new roof, replaced the boilers, added the Central Office, and reconfigured the library. However, some key renovations were not made.
All of the windows in HHS, besides those in the new Central Office, are the original single pane glass from 1969, said Dr. Jackson.
These types of windows are prone to drafts and do a poor job of keeping heat in. The windows are likely the main reason the school’s temperature fluctuates depending on the weather outside.
There are also multiple cracked windows in the school. These are obviously not making the entire school cold, but they can have an effect on the temperature of a classroom. There are large and noticeable cracks on the windows in rooms 603 and 609, fixed only with duct tape. Room 603 is Mrs. Shawna Frost’s room. She says the cracks have been there since last April. They formed due to a sudden change in temperatures.
“There should be money in the budget to fix these things,” said Dr. Jackson. The school budgets for minor repairs, such a few broken windows, and Dr. Jackson said this was most likely a communication issue, as the cracks should have been fixed.
Heat could also be escaping through the walls themselves. In room 601, Mrs. Heidi Finnegan’s room, there is a gap approximately one foot deep behind a bookshelf. One can assume this is also behind the other bookshelves in her room, as the school is built in a very uniform manner. A definite draft can be felt in front of this bookshelf, and on windy days, the draft has the ability to move a pant-leg, Mrs. Finnegan said.
Dr. Jackson also said the school is poorly insulated, another reason it is so inefficient to heat.
Students are keenly aware of the heating problem because it affects them the most; traveling from classroom to classroom can sometimes feel like changing seasons when some parts of the school are much colder than others.
“I can’t leave without my coat today, not because of [the] outside, but because of the school,” said senior Sarah Strock when asked about her thoughts on the school’s temperature.
Strock is not alone in her thinking. Many students would be happy to tell you that school temperatures in the winter are almost unbearable.
When asked if anything was going to be done to improve the efficiency of the windows, similar to the light bulb replacement project, Dr. Jackson essentially said no. In the case of the light bulb replacement project, in which the school system’s light bulbs were replaced with more energy efficient ones, the expected cost was $400,000, but the expected energy savings per year were almost $200,000.
According to Dr. Jackson, replacing the windows was looked into but the expected cost was about $1,000,000 and the expected savings were only $50,000 per year. This investment would not only take much longer to save money, but to just break even on the money spent. In the 20 years it would take to recoup initial costs, a new school could be built.
The single pane windows of HHS are “the biggest inefficiency left,” Dr Jackson affirmed. When asked if the issue would be fixed in a new school coming soon, he said, “I think that is a question the community will have to grapple with in the next five to ten years.”
*This figure may only represent the money spent on fuel through the end of December due to the way the bills are filed. The central office was reached out to for comment but did not respond.
Both photos taken by author. The top is of a bookshelf in Mrs. Finnegan’s room. The bottom is a crack in the window of Mrs. Frost’s room.