Our school, Yarra Ranges Special Developmental School, caters for students with cognitive disabilities from school entry to the end of the calendar year in which they turn 18.
Classes are small and typically eight students. This means that our energy usage is high compared with schools that have up to three times this student number per classroom. Special schools use the same heating, cooling and lighting per classroom but this equates to a much higher per student energy consumption and carbon footprint.
Since starting our ResourceSmart journey we have managed to reduce our energy consumption. The rising costs of gas and electricity have meant that it is not as easy to celebrate these reductions because the increases in energy costs can neutralise these reductions in consumption. It would be fantastic if instead these savings were enabling us to improve resourcing to our students.
Our school is doubly disadvantaged by being in a safe seat electorally and by the small but stable numbers of students who have significant cognitive impairments requiring special developmental schooling. The school recently celebrated its thirtieth birthday and still has no permanent buildings. Two years ago we received four new portable classrooms through the DET Asbestos Reduction Program. This resulted in a dramatic reduction in our electricity usage. The new relocatable classrooms are insulated and much more energy efficient than the forty-year-old relocatable classrooms they replaced.
The school has a hydrotherapy and swimming pool is that is in daily use and also used by a swimming school on four evenings a week as well as Saturdays. It is heated by gas. A new pool blanket has been the a major factor in a reduction in our gas usage. The school continues to apply for grants to fund installation of solar panels on the swimming pool. This will significantly reduce our gas usage.
Our students, staff and leadership work together to reduce energy where possible. The School Council has also been working with DET and now has a masterplan to replace the wholly relocatable buildings (the majority of which are 30+ years old) with permanent, purpose-built school buildings.
Infrastructure projects in our situation will be the best way to reduce our ongoing carbon footprint. Increasing energy costs have an impact on all schools. However small class sizes in special education settings mean that rising energy costs have significantly more impact on a school’s discretionary program spending per student. Reducing energy usage will continue to have important budget implications for special school environments.
In the interim we continue to work with our students and school community on the importance of managing those parts of energy usage they can control: dressing for the weather, monitoring heating and cooling; switching off programs and energy efficient appliances.