Westwood Heights Schools in Flint is in the middle of an energy efficiency project that is already paying dividends for staff and students. 

Despite past challenges, including high poverty and lingering student health effects stemming from lead in the city’s water supply, their story is turning into a successful one. 

The Michael Hamady Middle & High School more than doubled its student population, from 850 students in 2012-2013 to over 1,750 students in the 2021-2022 school year. By focusing on the future, they are working to rise above unfortunate circumstances to ensure students’ success. 

The five-year project is taking shape with $82,199 in anticipated annual cost savings due to the improvements to lighting as well as the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems. The project has not only won Consumers Energy Project of the Year, it is also creating a positive environment for staff and students.  

We recently sat down with Jill Diliberti, Energy Manager at Genesee Intermediate School District, to ask her about the project and what it means to the district’s students and staff.    

Why did the school district undertake this project back in 2019?  Prior to that, the school had worked hard to get its energy consumption down and save on utility costs.  The district implemented an energy program that was behavior based to get everyone involved in saving energy.  The next step was to assess the buildings.  A lot of the mechanical and electrical equipment was antiquated and reaching the point where there were no replacement parts available.  The district determined a performance contract was the best option so that the energy savings helped to pay for the badly needed upgrades. 

How have things been going? What are challenges and positives that have happened during course of project?  The updates are great!  The new LED lighting looks terrific and gives an even and consistent light.  We no longer have the dim, uneven checkerboard looking ceiling lights.  In terms of HVAC, we have a building automated system of controls which help with ventilation and air quality, in addition to letting Maintenance view and adjust space temperatures throughout the entire building.  One of the challenges was that COVID hit during the project work and everything ground to a halt, but once contractors were able to get back on site the project picked up again.  In terms of positives, with the help of the rebate dollars from Consumers Energy, we were able to expand our initial project scope and replace additional Roof Top Units, saving even more energy. 

Would you recommend the program with Consumers Energy to other school districts? Why?  Yes, we would definitely recommend working with Consumers Energy to get those rebate dollars.  Working with Consumers Energy’s engineers and advisors may help identify other energy efficiency solutions that may not have been considered.  It’s an opportunity to receive money back for project work that will help the district be energy efficient and save on energy costs (in addition to enhanced air quality and lighting).  These improvements are also beneficial to creating a better learning environment for students and staff.  Why wait on something that will save your district dollars and has such an immediate result? 

What type of impact has the project had on staff and students?  For staff and students, there has been the benefits of improved air quality and temperature maintenance.  These upgrades have greatly reduced equipment issues and the amount of problem calls that Maintenance has received.  According to the district, there also has been low levels of COVID transmission relative to other area schools.? 

What does the future hold for clean energy at your school?  Actually, the district is very interested in clean energy and has already taken a step in that direction.  As we were making the mechanical and electrical improvements, solar panels were also being installed right outside the schools.  We currently have solar arrays at three of our buildings, which help to power the district. 

How did it feel to star in the commercial? Did you get any feedback on it?   Making the “webisode” commercial was a new experience for me and I really enjoyed it!  After spending a day on set, there’s an appreciation of all of the hard work that goes into the production.  What was so impressive and what you don’t realize (at least to someone not usually involved in that business) is that there are so many different jobs, not to mention details, that have to come together to make a commercial.  During our production process, everyone was so professional and knowledgeable so that when they were working on set, it all came together.  In terms of feedback, it’s still early on since the commercial has come out so I have not heard much about it yet – but I’m sure that will soon change!  

What was it like preparing for the commercial?  Consumers Energy and Doner made it easy for me since my role was to be an Energy Manager, which I do every day!  I just had to be myself.  There were wardrobe and make-up stylists to determine what I wore and how I looked.  A few weeks before, I was given a script, so I needed to learn and memorize my lines.  I even asked if I could change some wording, and they were very open and receptive to my questions.   

How has the commercial exposure helped school district?  As the commercial is relatively new, it is still early to know what the total impact is.  However, I think this exposure will be good for the school district.  It shows the community that Westwood Heights is committed to making this investment in their buildings and clean energy for their students and for future generations.   

Would you consider future commercial opportunities?  I would definitely consider future commercial opportunities.  It’s a great and far- reaching way to get your message out.  This is one of the ways in which the world communicates today.  Plus, I had a lot of fun! 

Helping you learn how to conserve energy at school is only the tip of the iceberg of what we offer teachers and students. Check out these free resources to improve your school with Consumers Energy