Next project: energy savings

High school students pitch plans to convert to LED light fixtures

Project NEXT students at Northern High School concluded their school could save money by replacing the fluorescent light fixtures in their gymnasiums

Students in the Project NEXT program at Forest Hills Northern High School recently shed some light on the energy costs of keeping outdated fluorescent lights burning in their classrooms, hallways and gymnasiums.

They discovered that for $78,000, the school could replace all of the outdated fixtures in their classrooms with LED light fixtures. The project  would pay for itself in less than four years, they told a group of school administrators and district advisers.

Project NEXT is a project-based learning program that began officially in 2018. Students in the program identify real-world problems and propose solutions.

Besides saving money, the 22 students in Austin Krieg’s 10th grade class also discovered research that shows students may learn better under the glow of LED lights.

Project NEXT students at Northern High School think their buildings could save energy and money by replacing the fluorescent light fixtures with LED fixtures

The students presented their findings after a six-week study in which they audited every light fixture in the building and calculated the cost of operation. 

They determined that every classroom in the high school cost the district $245.53 per year to illuminate. They also looked at the hallways and gymnasiums, where the real energy hogs were hung from the rafters. They donned hardhats and work jackets to get a behind-the-scenes look at the school’s electrical boxes.

The students also consulted with officials from Consumers Energy to identify rebates and incentives the utility would offer the school to reduce the cost of replacing the fixtures. 

School officials and advisers were impressed and told the students they would look into using the district’s bond monies to get the fixtures replaced.

“I’ve done some energy audits for my buildings and I would hire you,” said restaurateur Johnny Brann, an adviser to the Project NEXT team. “You could incorporate this into the real world.”

 “We would see an immediate savings,” said Julie Davis, assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “We can allocate the money we spend on energy on the classrooms. We’re always looking for ways to save money operationally.”

Thalia Muniz, one of the presenters, said the project not only taught the class about energy savings, it also helped them hone their presentation skills. She said students worked on their slide presentation until the last minute to make sure it clearly showed the benefits of their proposals.

“It was really a learning thing on how to really propose an idea,” Thalia said.

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James Harger
James Harger reported on West Michigan's economy, courts and politics for The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for more than 37 years. He also is employed as Servanthood Leader at Immanuel Lutheran Church in downtown Grand Rapids. A graduate of Central Michigan University, he also has worked for publications in Holland, Mount Pleasant and Lansing. He is married to Lisa and has one daughter, who lives in Ann Arbor. Read James' full bio or email James.

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