During a Washougal School Board meeting earlier this year, Washougal School District facilities, maintenance and grounds supervisor Jessica Beehner clicked through a PowerPoint presentation that contained side-by-side photos of Hathaway and Gause elementary schools, Washougal High School and two other district locations, taken in 2021 and earlier this year.
The photos displayed a difference in exterior lighting that could only be described as night and day.
“(Looking at) those pictures, I’m like, ‘It’s daytime. Wait, no, it’s the lights,'” board member Angela Hancock said during the meeting on Tuesday, April 12.
That’s exactly what Beehner wanted to hear. Thanks to her efforts, the Washougal School District completed a project to replace and upgrade the vast majority of the external lighting at the three school buildings, the football scoreboard at Fishback Stadium, and its bus barn in March.
The $110,000 project was almost completely paid for by a grant from Clark Public Utilities (PUD) and the Washington State University Energy Program’s Community Energy Efficient Program, which encourages homeowners and small businesses across Washington state to make energy-efficient retrofits and upgrades.
Kris Grindy, the district’s finance director, described the project as “a home run” for the district during the April meeting.
“It’s amazing what LEDs can bring as far as cost savings, bettering the environment, and increasing safety and security for staff who work late at night,” Beehner told the Post-Record. “We were excited to team up with Clark PUD and (key accounts manager) Bill Hibbs for another great project. I’ve done several energy projects with him and the PUD over the years, so it was good to be able to bring this into Washougal.”
Hibbs initially offered the funds to multiple commercial organizations in Clark County and told Beehner that she’d receive, at most, $40,000. But no other local groups expressed interest in the grant, leaving the entirety of the money to the Washougal School District.
“I don’t know if people just didn’t have time, or weren’t interested, or (thought) they were going to have to come up with funding on their own to offset some of these things,” Beehner said. “As it was going, Bill would call and say, ‘I can increase you to this amount,’ so we went from $20,000 or $40,000 up to $110,000. I was very thankful for that. He was like, ‘Do you have any other lights?’ I was like, ‘Yes, I do. I’ll tell you everything I have, you tell me what qualifies, and let’s do it.’ Bill can tell you that my favorite projects are the ‘free to very cheap’ projects.”
Beehner, who was hired by the district in the summer of 2021, actually started working on the project before her official first day of work.
“Of course there were deadlines for the funding, so it was important to start working on it before my team even knew who I was,” Beehner said. “But It was OK because (I had a similar role at my) previous job, so I was just learning a new group of people, schools and administrators, and apologizing to people, ‘I know that I’ve met you before, but I just can’t remember your name right now.'”
The district also spent $5,300 of its own funds to replace the lights at Hathaway’s portable classroom facilities.
“The lights at the Hathaway Elementary portables (are making) a huge difference,” Beehner said. “I’ve had people comment to me that Hathaway now looks like the stadium when they drive by it. Going in and out of the high school, (you can see that) it’s completely different. From 39th Street, you can actually see the ‘Washougal High School’ (label) and the ‘W’ (on the side of the building), and I’m like, ‘Yeah, we should be proud of that.’ (Assistant superintendent) Aaron Hansen told me that it was very, very dark outside when he’s left basketball games, and so he’s excited to go to a game and see how much nicer it looks to walk out (of the gymnasium).
“And the courtyard at Gause is probably one of my favorite (examples) because to me, it looks completely like daylight with the new lights in there. ”
Beehner estimates that the project will save the district $12,000 annually on its utility bills.
“Obviously, the financial benefit is huge,” she said. “I think (the most rewarding aspect of the project for me) was being able to bring in this much money in my first year and being able to say, ‘We don’t have to spend this money on lights anymore. We can spend it in something else.'”
The new lighting has drawn praise from some of the district’s night custodians, who were previously challenged to move around the schools in dark, potentially unsafe conditions.
And it will have other benefits as well, according to Beehner.
“My (employees) are going to save a lot of time,” she said. “(I was told) that some of the lights in the high school parking lot seemed to go out all the time, and trying to get into the lot with a lift (and dealing with) teenage drivers is not always something that can happen. There’s definitely a time savings that’s allowing the maintenance department team to go and do other things for the district as well.”