School lights burn bright at night
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Months after Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to cut city government's energy use by 30 percent over the next decade, it appears that most Staten Island schools didn't get the memo.
A whopping 80 percent of public schools from Tompkinsville to Tottenville leave some of their lights on between midnight and 6 a.m., making them stand out like lighted Christmas trees among darkened homes in the neighborhoods around them, an Advance investigation has found. A few schools even left several classrooms illuminated overnight, potentially costing the city thousands of dollars in electricity bills every year.
The findings fly in the face of Bloomberg's ambitious environmental initiative PlaNYC 2030, unveiled on Earth Day April 20, a major component of which calls for the city to reduce its carbon footprint by limiting harmful emissions created when producing energy.
Some school custodians told the Advance lights are left on overnight for safety reasons, for instance if anyone needs to access the school after-hours. But the Department of Education's policy is to turn off all lights unless overnight work is being done at individual schools, according to spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. DOE officials will look into why lights are left on at so many schools here, she said, adding that the DOE's policy does not specify that lights be left on for safety purposes.
Barbara Warren of Staten Island Citizens for Clean Air, who is closely monitoring implementation of PlaNYC as it relates to energy conservation, said the city needs to crack down on unnecessary use of electricity.
"I think there's a real gap between what the plan says and what is actually being carried out," she said.
When the Advance recently spent a night driving from school to school, 44 of 55 were illuminated with lights left on in either stairwells, classrooms or both -- in some cases, entire floors were lit up. (There are 65 public school facilities on Staten Island. Private schools do not have to adhere to the city policy.)
SUBHED: CALL FOR POINT PERSON
Ms. Warren said until Bloomberg appoints an "energy czar" -- who would be responsible for overseeing implementation of energy initiatives in each city agency -- it will be tough to reduce energy demand and prevent the construction of additional power sources.
"You have to have somebody accountable on the ground ... or it doesn't happen," she said. "We really need to devote a lot of energy and [have] a lot of funds and personnel devoted to getting the energy-efficiency and conservation [goals] implemented so we can avoid building power plants."
Mayoral spokesman John Gallagher said that city agencies have begun to take steps toward reaching the mayor's goals in PlaNYC, such as swapping incandescent bulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs in municipal buildings, including schools. PlaNYC calls for creating a New York City Energy Efficiency Authority (NYCEEA), responsible for reaching the city's demand-reduction targets, and the city is pursuing state approval to do so.
"The mayor has set the most ambitious target of any municipality in the nation for retrofitting city-owned buildings to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent over the next decade," Gallagher said. He referred specific questions about schools' energy use to the DOE.
Ms. Feinberg said the agency would look at each school to find out why lights were left on. She said reasons could include overnight capital work, emergency repairs or general cleaning operations.
"We are going to check out those schools," said Ms. Feinberg, noting that if no work is being done, "then lights should be off. We'll be checking because we want to see where the lights were on."
Nobody could be seen working in the 44 schools where lights were left on.
SUBHED: SAFETY CONCERNS
One North Shore custodian said that, while some schools have overnight work taking place, others leave lights on for safety purposes in the event staff needs to go into a school building during off-hours.
"If the alarm goes off at 3 in the morning, for security reasons, you do not want to go into a pitch-black school," said the janitor, who requested anonymity. He explained that many lights are hooked up to a circuit breaker instead of individual light switches. "Mainly it's a security issue, it's not a laziness issue."
The custodian also said that lights can deter vandals or thieves from breaking into schools.
But "I doubt you're going to fool anybody into thinking somebody's home at school at night," said Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. "It's a school, you know."
Moore, whose agency has hailed the initiatives in PlaNYC, said it was "surprising" to learn that so many schools leave lights on overnight.
"I would certainly encourage the mayor -- and not just the mayor but the governor and all who report to them -- to do simple things like ... turning the lights off," Moore said. "One of the easiest ways of saving energy and saving taxpayer dollars is to turn off the lights when you leave."
City Councilman Michael McMahon (D-North Shore) agreed.
"Certainly given the enormous amount of facilities that the DOE oversees, they should have a much tighter policy," McMahon said, adding that the City Council should work with DOE to come up with "more rigid" regulations.
"There's no question it can be managed better by the DOE. That's an area the city can save energy and taxpayer dollars."
Glenn Nyback covers environmental news for the Advance. He may be reached at email@example.com.
It was 2:00 AM. I was coming home one night and I passed by my school. Half of the lights were still on. I was wondering why. And then I came to the conclusion the janitor maybe forgot to close the lights before locking the school. And then another night I came home late again. I passed by my school, again. I noticed again, the lights were on. I'm pretty sure this time it was done on purpose. Summer came, mid July. I was taking a walk near my school; it was about 8:00 PM. I haden't seen my school in over a month. And BOOM the lights were on. And now I am here wondering, what is the purpose of leaving the lights on at school at night? Is this for security purpose or something, because I sure as hell know, they're wasting a whole lot of electricty.
TL;DR: Why do they leave the lights on at school during the night time?