James Grigoreas was learning about heating and cooling, but he didn't need that expertise to know his dorm lacked sufficient ventilation and was stuffy, to say the least.
"Our dorms didn't have any air conditioning, so the best we could do was open the windows at night and hoped it stayed cool," he recalled of his time at the Trapper Creek Job Corps near Darby, Montana.
And it wasn't for lack of money, because the Job Corps was spending as much as $25,000 each month to heat and cool its dormitories and buildings.
Four years later, in 2012, Grigoreas returned to Trapper Creek as heating and cooling contractor to help manage a major energy retrofit project overseen by Ravalli Electric Cooperative and the Bonneville Power Administration. A recent study and article by BPA found that since its completion, the project has been saving the center about 20 percent on its monthly energy bill.
Grigoreas's role in the retrofit allowed him to give back to the program that put him on a new path. Before Trapper Creek, "I was having trouble getting a simple electrician's job because of my nine years in the food industry. I wanted a change," he said. That led him to Job Corps.
The Job Corps center needed a change too. BPA was about to raise rates to Ravalli, meaning the center would ultimately see an increase. So it approached the co-op and BPA for guidance, and the utilities came up with the retrofit.
But before co-op and BPA crews began, they had a big mystery to solve. "They had so many buildings behind one meter, we couldn't tell which building was using the most energy," said Jim Maunder, manager of member services at the Corvallis, Montana, co-op.
Results from an initial "scoping meeting" in late 2011 had crews installing 20 to 30 temporary meters and data loggers throughout the campus that for one year "broke out energy load building by building," said Maunder.
The biggest energy culprits among the center's 26 buildings, according to the data loggers, were the welding shop, cafeteria, gym, carpentry shop and dorms, where wild temperature swings had drawn loud complaints from residents.
"The dorms were built in the 1940s for the Civilian Conservation Corps and retrofitted in the 1970s to become Trapper Creek," said Maunder. "The ductwork hadn't been touched in 40 years."
To make up for lost time, Maunder and his BPA counterpart, Erik Boyer, embarked on a massive ductwork mission, taking care to involve Trapper Creek staff throughout the process. At the beginning, contractors sealed ducts and installed ductless heat pumps in two buildings and then hired students as assistants.
The "immediate return on investment" from the ductless heat pumps and sealing work motivated Trapper Creek to install dozens of energy efficiency measures, including heat-recovery ventilators, heat pump water heaters, LED exit signs and light fixtures—all at an affordable price, said Dan Gager.
"Because we involved students, one of the contractors certified in duct sealing lowered his rates to have them help him," said Gager. The retrofit also benefitted from co-op and BPAs know-how in identifying rebates and other innovative funding sources.
After all, said the Trapper Creek program manager, operational savings means more funds to help more young adults like Gregorieas succeed.
"The more you save on power, the more you have available for other things, like a new set of tools for when they graduate," said Gager. "Honestly, with the energy savings, we've been able to keep paying our staff and afford other maintenance on the center."