In Waipahu, an old school becomes a modern model for sustainability

WAIPAHU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honowai Elementary School is the first public school in Hawaii to complete a campus-wide retrofit that's made it more energy efficient

"We have become a lot more energy conscious," principal Kent Matsumura said.

In recognition of its efforts the U.S. Department of Education chose Honowai as a 2018 Green Ribbon School. It's the first time a Hawaii school made the list for reducing energy consumption. Only 40 schools nationwide were selected.

"We didn't think we would get it," Matsumura said. "Our school is quite old and we didn't think we would qualify."

The 50-year-old campus underwent a $1.2 million upgrade in 2015. Photovoltaic panels were installed, along with an improved electrical system, and LED lighting.

The school's electricity bill was cut in half.

"This is absolutely a model, and this was a pilot program intended for that," said Dann Carlson, the state's assistant superintendent for school facilities.

Honowai's classrooms were air conditioned but the school held onto its old-fashioned louvered windows.

"We have the option on cooler days to turn off the air conditioning and open up the classrooms to get fresh air," Matsumura said.

A locally-based, Honolulu team of engineers from ENGIE Services U.S. worked with the school for five years to plan and execute the retrofit.

"ENGIE congratulates the whole Honowai team for their well-deserved recognition," regional ENGIE Education Manager Tori Suarez said.

The campus is an example of what the state hopes to do at other schools, starting with changing 700,000 fluorescent lights to LEDs..

"That's bringing in some huge savings that we can reinvest in further efficiencies, eventually getting to a point where we're installing PV, and eventually getting to a point where we're installing batteries to get us to a true micro grid solution," Carlson said.

To qualify for the Green Ribbon award Honowai had to also demonstrate other green measures. Its aquaponics program qualified as did student tracking of how much energy the school saved.

"They've learned a lot about energy consumption, energy conservation, and how it helps their families," Matsumura said.

So far this year Honowai has saved more than $66,500 in energy costs

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