KST Cover

Frugality 101

Keene State offers an excellent education at an affordable cost – and that requires it to manage its resources carefully. Prudence Pennypincher, please meet our Office of Finance and Planning.

by Mark Reynolds

If you polled alumni from any class in Keene State's 100-year history, it's likely they'd all be aware of the College's careful fiscal management. Since its days as Keene Normal School, the College has worked hard to steward its limited resources, continue to grow, and offer more bang for the educational buck.

"This is a campus that has never been frivolous," noted Jay Kahn, vice president of finance and planning. "It's always been extremely prudent with its public resources."

What else would you expect from a college in the heart of New England, home of the frugal Yankee? "Ours are the values of New England," Kahn explained. "We share that 'make do' sensibility that is firmly rooted in this part of the country. Frugality is something New Englanders know about."

Besides the need to save money, a lot of the motivation behind fiscal responsibility is the widespread commitment simply to be good citizens. Save resources, save money, and help the planet as best you can.


The first and most important way to cut costs is to cut energy use. When the steam plant that provided heat for the campus for nearly 100 years needed an upgrade, the design team did their research and found that a cogeneration steam turbine offered energy efficiency and significant savings. As a result, the new plant that opened in 2009 features a pair of super-efficient new boilers that turn a turbine that can generate nearly 400KW, or 12 percent of campus electricity. The steam provides heat to the buildings. Kahn estimates that the plant will pay for itself by 2016 and save $5.6 million over the 30-year life of the boilers.

The campus has also become much more efficient in heating its buildings. When Fiske and Huntress halls were renovated, each room got its own temperature control, with set parameters. Sensors in the window frame automatically turn the thermostat down to a minimum level if a window is open. "If you want outside air, you can have it. You just can't have it at the same time you're getting heat," Kahn explained.

"We also do a lot with heat-recovery units," said Bill Rymes, supervisor of plumbing and heating operations. "We take exhaust air coming out of a building and we run it through an air-to-air heat exchanger. We recover about 80 percent of the heat energy that would otherwise be exhausted outdoors, and we use that to heat the fresh air that's coming back in. Most of our buildings now have that system built into them."


"We've become our own commodity trader," Kahn said. "There are four parts to an electric bill: transmission, stranded costs, peak load, and electrical production. We can bid on the electrical production component, which is the largest part of the bill. So we go out to the public market and see where electricity is going to be the cheapest. Every year, the market becomes bigger as more players enter to sell electricity.

"Last year we saw that electric production costs were pretty reasonable, so we locked in a 24-month contract, instead of the usual 12. We got the price down from 9¢ per kilowatt hour to 6.5¢, saving $440,000 per year. When we saw fuel-oil prices hit bottom in 2009, we bought for 30 months, saving $240,000 over the previous year."

Converting the campus to more economical lighting has also led to important savings. KSC received a federal grant to change the old metal-halide lamps in Spaulding Gym to fluorescent fixtures, which cut electric use and improved the lighting quality. The College also replaced the 30-year-old light fixtures in the Redfern with energy-efficient fluorescent lights and switched to efficient LED lights in the Redfern parking lot.


The College recently replaced all of the 2.5-gallon-per-minute showerheads in residence halls with 1.5-gallon-per-minute heads. Rymes calculates that saves more than $250,000 over an eight-month academic year. Not bad for an initial $4,000 investment!

The plumbing shop also replaced all the flush valves on toilets with dual-flush valves and could see a reduction in water usage. Since water and sewer rates are based on meter size, the plumbers changed the old water meters to smaller ones. This saved $8,000 per year in one building, though the savings varies from building to building.

Efficient New Buildings

Pondside III is LEED-Silver certified; One Butler Court is also built to the same standards. Both halls have dual-flush toilets, water-saving showerheads, reduced-flow faucet aerators, and efficient HVAC systems.

The new Alumni Center also boasts several energy-efficient features, including a condensing hot-water boiler that's more than 90 percent efficient, occupancy-sensing lighting, a roof made of recycled materials that resemble slate, porous pavement designed to divert storm water underground and minimize the impact on city drainage, and energy-saving R40 insulation.

The new Technology, Design, and Safety building going up this summer, planned as a zero-net energy building, will feature monitors that can control energy use in each room, depending on how many people are there. For example, if there's only one person working at a machine in the wood shop, only the fan and lights serving that machine will be on.

Contract Savings

By carefully reviewing its contracts with outside vendors, the College has come up with some creative ways to save money. When asked for the most dramatic example of these savings, Dr. Kahn replied: "These aren't dramatic, and that's what's great about them. We've found ways to maintain essentially the same level of service by modulating the amount of effort that goes into it." For example, the cleaning service cleans the administrative buildings on campus only three days a week instead of five. This means $43,000 in savings over the course of a year.

KSC had a maintenance contract to protect the hundreds of network switches around campus. A maintenance contract typically covers them all, but the College realized that it was unlikely they would all fail at the same time. It reworked the agreement to cover only a portion of the switches and saved $85,000 per year.

KSC was also able to save $225,000 per year by reworking its contract with dining services, $15,000 per year on transporting athletes and students on field trips, $15,000 per year on shipping and freight, and $80,000 per year by modifying student-information and learning-management systems contracts.

The Student Center used to contract out for all its lighting and sound for speakers and events, but now it has trained its own staff to do that, saving $15,000 per year.

Going Paperless

By putting more of its information online, KSC has been able to save more than $100,000 per year on paper and mailing costs. The hefty course catalog, as well as handbooks and policy manuals, are now online only. The admissions process is also online only.

The Human Resources Office saved $33,000 per year by posting job openings on the web and cutting back on the number of print ads it runs, and it limits the number of candidates it brings to campus for interviews.

Improved Technology

The IT Department is in the process of virtualizing the servers, which "creates savings in hardware and software, benefits in disaster-recovery efforts, improved security, and fewer utilities costs," noted Laura Seraichick, KSC's chief information officer. So far, those efforts are saving the campus $36,000 a year, with more to come.

Keene State College is required to provide equal access to academic and campus programs and activities to students with documented disabilities. The Office of Disability Services (ODS) has found resourceful ways to cut these costs while still meeting the institutional access needs of the students. For example: By converting printed textbooks into electronic formats for visually impaired students to use on their Braille notebooks, the College saves about $50,000 per semester.

By converting printed books into electronic formats compatible with such devices as text-to-speech converters for students with reading disabilities, ODS saves about $57,000 per year.

By training staff in the highly technical skill of converting music scores into Braille, ODS saves about $4,500 a score.

Recycle, Reuse, and Resell

When The Princeton Review's Guide to 286 Green Colleges recently listed Keene State as one of the country's most environmentally responsible schools, it was spot on.

Keene State recycles just about everything it possibly can: glass and plastic bottles, aluminum, cardboard, paper, batteries, ballasts, and fluorescent light bulbs. It composts all the leaves and grass clippings as well as the precooking food waste from the Dining Commons, and it collects batteries, ink-jet cartridges, clothing, books, and Styrofoam peanuts for environmentally safe disposal and reuse – about 249 tons of material in all in 2010.

On the second Saturday of most every month since 2001, KSC has held a surplus sale, where it sells used furniture, office equipment, machinery, and tools. People from the Monadnock region show up early to get great deals on dressers, chairs, beds, rugs, computer monitors, printers, welding equipment, dump trucks – you name it. "We average $15,000 to $20,000 per year in gross sales," says Jim Draper, director of campus purchasing and contract services.

Best of all, any furniture that doesn't sell through the surplus sale is picked up by the Institutional Recycling Network (IRN), out of Concord, New Hampshire. IRN ships the furniture to Haiti, Nicaragua, or other places in need. The savings is significant, according to Mary Jensen, KSC's sustainability director. For example, it costs $35 to dispose of a mattress. If, instead, the College sends 100 mattresses to Haiti, it saves $3,500, and 100 people in Haiti get a decent place to sleep. In 2009, KSC sent nearly 12,000 items, or 37 tons, through IRN for reuse and recycling in development and relief efforts in Honduras, Haiti, and Nicaragua.

Are We Really That Frugal?

"Are we really as frugal as we say we are?" mused Jay Kahn. "We've used some national statistics to compare our per-student costs to some of our peer institutions. We've seen repeatedly that our costs are 18 percent below that of our peers. Then we go a little bit deeper into the data to see if we are putting our dollars toward our highest priorities – instruction and student learning – and we see the College is putting 57 percent of its general operating budget into instruction. Only one other campus matches us at that level. So, we're the lowest cost per student, and we're putting the greatest amount toward instruction."

What makes KSC able to meet these goals? "In part, it's because we contract out some services," Kahn explained, "and we have lower staffing levels in our support offices. Also, I think it originates from the College's mission, which is more focused than that of many of our peers. Our primary mission is serving undergraduate students in a residential setting, so we don't have the mission spread across multiple degree levels like others do. We can maximize our use of resources by focusing right here."

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