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The community of Vernonia, OR, celebrates the opening of a new energy efficient school. | Photo courtesy of <a href="">April Baer, OPB</a>.

The community of Vernonia, OR, celebrates the opening of a new energy efficient school. | Photo courtesy of April Baer, OPB.

A while ago, we wrote about the quiet, rural community of Vernonia, Oregon, which had been through its share of hard economic times. After two “500-year floods” in an 11-year period devastated the area, damaging its schools and the community core, the town finally started to rebuild its school last April. More than a year later, residents of Vernonia had reason to celebrate when Former Governor Ted Kulongoski joined United States Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and several other federal and state elected officials last week for the ribbon cutting of a new energy efficient K-12 school and community center. 

The “barn raising” mentality of the Vernonia community helped make the new school and community center a success. The energy efficiency upgrades were made possible using a combination of state, federal, private sector, and non-profit funds -- paired with a $13.6 million municipal bond measure passed by the town’s voters.

A $1 million grant from the Energy Department’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program helped the school district incorporate energy efficiency measures, including an energy efficient integrated heating and cooling system. This feature, along with upgrades to the building envelope and lighting, are estimated to reduce the school district’s annual energy usage by 43 percent -- saving taxpayers more than $62,000 per year for the 135,000 square-foot school. The energy efficient upgrades provide not only a healthier learning environment for students and faculty but bolster the school district’s application for LEED Platinum designation.

The school will also serve as a laboratory for forest technologies and resource learning. A biomass boiler purchased with EECBG funds will provide the school district with additional energy savings. Wood pellets produced from forest restoration efforts will feed the boiler and provide heat and power to the school.