By Chris Peraino and Joseph Wolkin
The Port Jefferson Middle School welcome sign is aligned with a sign from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, explaining that the school is part of the Environmental Protection Fund. JOSEPH WOLKIN/THE LONG ISLANDER An energy performance contract between the Port Jefferson School District and Johnson Controls, an Energy Service Company (ESCO), that will upgrade the district’s energy infrastructure is set to be finalized in the upcoming weeks.
The partnership is just the latest in a number of eco-friendly initiatives spearheaded by Fred Koelbel, Port Jefferson School District’s Director of Facilities. In late January, the district installed a 3,400 square foot green roof atop of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School that curbs the impact of stormwater that would otherwise seep into Port Jefferson Harbor via gutters, and ultimately reach the Long Island Sound. The roof is made up of regionally grown sedum and a waterproof membrane that retains and filters the water, limiting the amount that pours into the local harbor.
“When I applied for the grant, the premise was, look this is not going to change the world; this is a small area. But what made this so unique is you can literally walk right up to it and see it,” Koelbel said. “It just becomes an example. We’re talking about sixth, seventh and eighth graders.”
Any renovations Johnson Controls undergoes will pay for themselves, as the district will ultimately save money by reducing its energy consumption, Koelbel said.
Some such renovations include upgrading the district’s energy management system, allowing Koelbel to monitor and adjust heat and lighting across the school district from his PC at home. Exact installation dates are not yet solidified, but Koelbel said work is to begin around the beginning of March.
Adjacent to the green roof stands a four square foot plot of the sedum encased in a transparent shell, rendering the waterproofing membrane and growing medium visible.
Underneath lies a calibrated bucket that allows students to gauge the collected rain water of the plot. By multiplying to account for the full 3,400 square footage, students are able to track the roof’s total production. It serves not just as an eco-friendly innovation, but also as a hands-on educational tool that normalizes a healthy environmental consciousness.
“The real issue is when water washes over a surface that is contaminated,” Henry Bokuniewicz, a doctoral marine biology professor who teaches a class on the Long Island Sound at Stony Brook University, said.
Although rain water itself is not harmful, runoff from the road may contain nitrates and contaminates that affect the production of micro-algae, as well as the “growth and profundity” of wildlife, Bokuniewicz said. Runoff played a role in the near eradication of a once-thriving lobster population in the Long Island Sound. Green roofs cycle potentially harmful water back into the atmosphere and away from gutters.
A Department of Environmental Conservation grant subsidized all but $68,000 of the roof’s total $275,000 cost, the remaining cost being covered by the district. A commercial roofing manufacturer that specializes in green roofs, Siplast, oversaw installation.
“There is no question about the benefits of green roofs,” Jorg Breuning, founder of Green Roof Service, LLC, said. “There is also no question that people need to talk about it and teach that.”
While other districts expressed interest in a green roof to Koelbel when he hosted an instructional in late January, Port Jefferson remains the only district to on Long Island to boast ownership.
“Most people don’t know anything about [green roofs] or if they are aware of them, they are under the impression that they are very expensive and are only there for visual appeal,” Dr. Brad Rowe, a professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture, said. “People, young people included, need to be educated on their numerous environmental, social, and economic benefits.”
Koelbel attests his ability to install the green roof, which does not directly save the district money, to the clout he has gained with past energy-saving undertakings. After winning a 2009 recession Recovery Act that allowed Koelbel to install LED lighting, ultimately saving the district money, administration became more open to energy-reduction efforts.
Since then, the district has installed solar panels, introduced motion sensor lights that automatically shut off when there is a lack of movement and refurbished a number exterior light poles from sodium-based fixtures to LED, reducing energy usage from 2,000 watts per pole to 300. The remaining sodium-based fixtures are set to be altered to LED under the upcoming contract.
Though official statistics have been skewed due the departure of the worker who tracked energy output numbers, Koelbel says that the district has reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent. That number is to increase after the energy performance contract is under way.