BENNINGTON — The Hiland Hall School underwent extensive renovations this summer, thanks to a grant program from Efficiency Vermont.
The program, which funds deep energy retrofits of existing structures, was announced earlier this year and is designed to help Vermont reach the energy goals laid out in the 2012 Comprehensive Energy Plan, which include having 90 percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2050. Six businesses were eventually selected to participate in the first phase of the program, and will hopefully serve as models for the future. Besides the Hiland Hall School, the other participating organizations are the Bennington Early Childhood Center, Casella Waste Systems in Rutland, the city of St. Albans, Hannaford Supermarket in Brandon, and a multi-tenant office building in Waitsfield.
Meg Cottam, director of the school, said that, in order to receive the maximum funding possible from the grant, they have to meet certain benchmarks by December of 2017. Not wasting any time, however, the school's facilities committee, which is made up of community volunteers, quickly got to work on the renovations, which were able to be completed before school started in the fall. Cottam said she believed they were the first of the six organizations to complete the projects they laid out in their application to Efficiency Vermont. Those projects included replacing the front windows of the building with more energy efficient models, installing new LED lighting, installing new sheetrock, installing insulation, and, most significantly, replacing the 20-year-old ceiling.
The grants for the program will be given out after the school meets the energy benchmarks, said Cottam, meaning that the school had to pay for the improvements up front, which was accomplished thanks in part to a generous donor. However, she believes they are in a good position to meet the goal of decreasing the energy use by 50 percent, which would allow the school to receive maximum funding from the program. Cottam said she writes periodic, detailed reports of the school's energy usage and progress to Efficiency Vermont.
Students, parents and other volunteers helped move everything out of the main school building for the renovations, and then moved everything back in before school started. She described the work as a community-wide effort.
According to Efficiency Vermont's description of the process for checking the organization's benchmarks, "We will use real-time measurement to evaluate each participant's success. We will also look at each facility as a whole, measuring total energy use across fuel types. This method of measurement will allow us to consider participant's behavioral measures in addition to larger weatherization projects and equipment upgrades. With this innovative approach to achieving energy savings, we will gain new insights that will help us modify and design Efficiency Vermont programs in the future. We think these six Vermont businesses are up for the challenge."
The Hiland Hall School is a progressive independent school for children aged 5-14, located on Route 7A in Bennington. To learn more about the school, visit the website at www.hilandhallschool.org. Efficiency Vermont is a state-mandated program that is funded through a surcharge on Vermonters' electric bills. It funds numerous programs to help homes and businesses become more efficient. Learn more at www.efficiencyvermont.com.