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The Niagara Falls School District is bracing itself for a 50 to 60 percent increase in energy costs this winter.

The School Board heard a report Thursday evening from Honeywell Corp., which built the new high school and has been hired to oversee an energy review for every building in the district.

Projections of cost increases of various fuels thus far -- and measures to be taken to conserve energy -- were given by Martin Hohle of Honeywell Corp. and Roy W. Rogers, administrator for school business services.

"We do have a large energy budget," Rogers told the board, "and we expect energy costs will go up by 50 to 60 percent this winter."

About $1.5 million has been budgeted for energy.

The cost of fuel oil has risen by 39 percent since January and 83 percent since January 1999, Hohle said.

Since January, the district has been billed 33 percent more for natural gas than a year earlier, he said.

Electricity costs have risen by 13 percent in the past 18 months.

Hohle outlined these measures for conserving energy without investing money:

Turning off classroom lights for just an hour a day -- such as during a recess or assembly -- can save 10 percent a day for that room.

Switching off computers at the end of the school day can save 50 percent.

Thermostats should be set at 68 degrees for heating and 72 degrees for cooling a room.

"We're sending letters to all staff to turn off lights when not in use and other measures," Rogers said. "We're also looking at telephone use."

For example, he said, when calling from one school building to another, it costs more to dial "9" and then the whole number than to use the district's internal dialing system.

The board voted on two controversial issues that will come up when the New York State School Boards Association meets in Rochester from Oct. 19 to 21. In a split decision, it instructed its delegates, Don J. King and Russell Murgia, to vote "no" on both.

One measure would seek state approval for school districts to use the Internet for soliciting competitive bids. Dissenting were Mark Zito and Russell Petrozzi.

"We're sending a message (to local bidders) that if it's cheaper, we can buy it on the Internet," Zito said.

"If we bid on the Internet, we must accept the lowest bid," Petrozzi said. "When we buy from out of state, we aren't generating any tax revenues. That's what we live on."

"But our responsibility to the taxpayer is to use the most cost-efficient method," Murgia countered.

Christopher H. Brown said small businesses are already preparing for the inevitable competition over the Internet and will not be harmed by it but will use it to bid out of state, too.

The other measure would require schools to purchase clothing only if it bore a label assuring that it had not been made in a "sweatshop" factory that exploited children.

"If we're going to bid over the Internet," said a disgruntled Zito, "we might as well have 500 kids working for us in a sweatshop." He cast the lone vote for the measure, which was opposed by the others on grounds that it would raise costs and could not be enforced.

The board appointed Rollins Construction Management, at $16,000, as "clerk of the works" to oversee $12 million in capital projects throughout the school district. Steve Rollins was Honeywell's project manager for the new high school.

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