In Longmeadow’s striving for a safe, COVID-19 free environment, the town inadvertently harmed the environment. Like many municipalities across the country and even the world, Longmeadow heated the outdoors indirectly to keep good circulation in public buildings by opening the windows and letting the COVID-19 particles out—alongside all the warm air that they were suspended in.
“Did that hurt our ability to be sustainable?” Kevin Shea, a member of the School Committee and the Energy and Sustainability Committee, asks. “Absolutely. But I think it was the right call for this year.”
The long and expensive fight for sustainability was put on hold just about everywhere as the COVID-19 pandemic took the nation by storm. A plastic bag ban in Longmeadow was passed in 2019 but then was amended out of emergency. More residential garbage was created from now stay-at-home workers. And, as a swept-under-the-carpet issue worsens, realities of the fight for sustainability are being redefined.
“[We] need to reduce our energy footprint first before [we] try to generate solar electricity. If we try to put in solar before doing the hard work of doing insulation and better windows we’re still going to be generating too much energy. You want to generate as little energy as possible regardless of what way you do it so you’re not wasting energy. I think that’s a very compelling point that a lot of people, [myself] included probably until last year, don’t think enough about,” states Shea.
“How do we stop heating the outdoors? That’s been a thing and something that we’re always looking for ways to improve that,” Shea says.
To put it into perspective, Tom Mazza, the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, supplied the statistics; the fiscal year for Longmeadow runs from July 1st to June 30th. In the fiscal year of 2018-2019, it was 291,663 therms spent in natural gas for the town (for reference, the US Energy Information Administration defines a therm as “the unit of measurement for your natural gas use over time.” One therm is equal to 100,000 British Thermal Units”. One British Thermal Unit is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit). In the fiscal year of 2019-2020, it was 276,145 therms. In 2020-2021, it was 357,164 therms and counting, as this statistic only covers July 1st, 2020 through mid-March of 2021.
Mazza believes this increase in the amount of natural gas Longmeadow uses was mostly due to keeping windows open to increase fresh air circulation in our public buildings.
“What’s the best thing you could do to save the planet?” Shea prompts. “Make sure your attic is insulated.”
“We’re trying really hard that we’re using the right boilers and we’re going to make sure our buildings have the best insulation. We still have some buildings that need better windows. That’s something we’re constantly thinking about and recognizing but we need to continually assess that.”
“One of the biggest problems that we have right now is that our two middle schools are so old that they’re not as efficient. This is part of our rationale to build a new or two new middle schools. We’ve been unsuccessful in trying to get the state to support that. We’re going to continue to try every year, but that’s one thing that frustrates me because until we get support from the state to replace those schools we’re not going to be able to make them as energy-efficient as we’d like to.”
“We’ve been lucky in Longmeadow that our buildings are good enough, that we’ve been able to operate safely because the ventilation is good enough.”
“It’s a massive investment [to make those buildings safer].”