Case Study Interview and Project Spotlight with Craig Ihrke, ISD #299 Caledonia Public Schools Superintendent,
and Lee Morem, Facilities Director
LED Lighting Upgrade, Retrofit Light Fixtures, New LED Technology, Energy Savings
ISD #299 Caledonia Public Schools prides themselves on empowering learners for life and their strong ties to the community. In a school district serving Caledonia and the surrounding areas, it became abundantly clear to superintendent Craig Ihrke and his team that providing a welcoming environment was a necessity. “There are a lot of things that add to the pride in our schools, and lighting is certainly one of those things,” said Craig Ihrke, superintendent of Caledonia Schools.
A complete LED lighting retrofit across both buildings “provides a brighter, more welcoming environment, but more importantly it provides a lot of energy savings. We could save up to $10,000 annually,” said Ihrke.
Caledonia Area Middle School and High School
The most important factor for Caledonia Schools, which include Caledonia Elementary School and the combined building for Caledonia Middle and High School, was really focusing on the potential energy savings across both buildings. Lee Morem, Facilities Director at Caledonia Schools said “The Retrofit Companies, Inc. (TRC) helped us decide that retrofitting the lights was the best course of action, and the most economical. It has been a wonderful experience to see the buildings transform.” The decision to upgrade the lighting across the entire district not only impacted the staff working in the offices, the students learning in their classrooms, but also the athletes practicing before and after school. As an added bonus, the community gets to watch their all-state caliber athletes in efficient and even lighting.
Caledonia Elementary School
Outdated technology throughout district
As The Retrofit Companies, Inc. fully inspected the district with an Investment Grade Audit and their team of experts, it became clear that there were a variety of issues at play, both with the interior and exterior of each building. “Exterior lighting is very important, especially when we have events in the evenings and the MN winters get pretty dark. Having quality exterior lighting is important for safety and it also gives a welcoming feeling when you enter the parking lot” said Ihrke.
Specifically, the buildings were running on outdated technology, which resulted in a high level of lamp failure and maintenance headaches.
“We had a lot of exterior metal halide lights that we were having a lot of trouble with. The building is 18 years old and we were seeing a lot of things start to fail, both fixtures and ballasts” said Morem.
“From a security standpoint, we had a lot of dark spots, and when we do snow removal there were a lot of areas that were not well lit. That was a motivation for sure.” With this in mind, it was apparent that TRC address the light levels through design using photometric layouts.
The Caledonia Middle/High School was also undergoing a renovation in their main gymnasium; a pivotal area of a school that is known for their impressive athletic programs. Ihrke said “The importance of having quality light in the gymnasium, especially for our strong athletic teams...we are very excited about the lighting in the gym. The light has changed drastically and people are going to notice right away.” The Retrofit Companies, Inc. partnered with Caledonia Schools during multiple district renovations, both exterior and interior projects, including new sidewalks, that all showcase the pride that the district takes in providing the best educational facilities. The district had to ensure they found a partner for their lighting upgrade that could work with the many moving parts of an entire school district, their existing projects and the schedules of community buildings that never sleep. In the end, TRC and Caledonia Schools worked together to create a smooth upgrade across all facilities.
Caledonia Area Middle and High School Gymnasium
Making the Investment
“This was a peculiar project; we actually went out and created our own bid form for this project; it was very involved. Chris Wendling at TRC was very helpful in guiding us with what specifications were needed for this large project. It was very helpful to have Chris help with that part of the process. The audit that TRC provided had the existing technology, the recommended replacement, as well as additional recommendations for replacements. You could clearly see what was the best way to go” said Morem.
When considering alternative solutions, the Investment Grade audit provided by TRC gave a clear choice as to the most economical and financially responsible solutions.
Morem said “We went from a T8 fixture, with 32 watts per lamp, to 15 watts per lamp, so we cut it in half. We were told from the outset that we would see considerable savings right away, and to take your total load and to cut it in half is substantial. I don’t know of anything else in your building system that you could do that with; you can’t cut your heating costs in half, or your cooling in half by making one change. To see over 50% of your consumption reduced with an overall better quality light, the answer was clear.”
In fact, the proposed cost savings was a reduction in annual energy costs by 58%. Based on hours of operation, the existing energy costs under the old technology would have been $82,124. With the implemented solutions they are expected to see operating costs of $34,536.30. These savings not only came from lamp replacements but also from retrofit kits and fixtures to offer longer life solutions in areas where maintenance issues were a concern. Breaking that savings down, Caledonia School district is saving $130.38 a day.
Caledonia Elementary School Light Layout
Keeping it Local
TRC worked diligently to accommodate the many challenges and variables of this project. In general, summer is a busy time for schools to get projects of all kinds completed, this was no different. TRC worked with the painters when they needed to get in to paint the gym ceilings, and change their installation schedule as necessary. “These buildings never really sleep...the high school is a living organism and is always going. From people lifting weights at 5am to evening events that push 11pm.” With facilities that have such a high demand for light usage, it was imperative that TRC provide a full scope of work in their Investment Grade Audit, detailing the various parts of their buildings and their unique demands. “It was very exciting to work with Retrofit (TRC) about how detailed the audit was, how everything fell together in exactly the order in which they said it would"...
"The timelines and schedules were met without any issue, and most of the times in advance. Scheduling was very easy, if there were needs for the building, the team would be flexible and work on another area. This could actually be done with school in session, that’s how easy it was to work with TRC “ Morem said.
“I was also very happy to see that they hired a local contractor to sub out the work down here in the elementary building. We like to have community involved and we like to have local contractors; it’s a small community and we take pride in keeping things local” said Morem. TRC always supports the area being served, and working with a local contractor is part of the full circle of service provided that matches the TRC company values.
Caledonia Elementary School Library
LED Lighting Transformation
“The only surprise I had was how quickly an area had progressed. You return to a room and all of a sudden it is transformed. You could do this project with school operating, the crew kept things tight, clean and I was surprised at how smooth everything went.”
Caledonia Area Middle and High School Hallway LED Lights
When asked about how the new light has been received by staff and faculty, Morem said “In recent weeks as school starts to start up again, and students coming in for sports programs, we have heard many times how much brighter it is in the building, noticing things they have never noticed before” even if that means needing a fresh coat of paint on the walls. “Especially the impact at night, the color and the quality of light makes an impact. It’s almost like you are getting a new chance at a new room.”