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Action: Smart Strategies for Facility Savings

In Newburgh, New York, Temple Beth Jacob (TBJ) was struggling to pay to repair a leaky roof and faulty heating system. Thinking practically and communally, TBJ leaders began talking with neighboring Jewish institutions. Soon, TBJ and the Newburgh Jewish Community Center decided to sell their buildings and move into the building owned by Congregation Agudas Israel, which was now too large for the Conservative congregation's declining membership. In January 2012, all three institutions formed the corporation "Kol Yisrael," meaning both "voice of the Jewish people," and "all of Israel." The three will share one Jewish campus and pay rent to Kol Yisrael.

"Before we created Kol Yisrael, each of the three entities paid for building maintenance, utilities, phone service, and insurance; each employed its own support staff; and each spent funds on landscaping and snow-plowing," says Kol Yisrael President Alan Seidman. "Now we will share our staff and split most of those costs three ways. Temple Beth Jacob has already realized about 30% savings on its overall cost of operations, and we anticipate increased savings as we continue to streamline operations."

TBJ Immediate Past President Susan Levy explains that "This is not a merger: each synagogue has its own rabbi, and its own services. Yet, we list all events and activities on a single calendar." As there is only one large sanctuary, TBJ holds its Shabbat service on Friday nights, Agudas Israel holds its service on Saturday morning, and some people attend both.

Kol Yisrael is now engaged in a $3.5 million dollar capital campaign to renovate, expand, and "green" its facility, which will include adding a social hall and a multi-purpose room for JCC activities that can also be converted into a prayer space. Eventually, Levy says, "We anticipate that our facility will house both the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Services offices, and provide meeting space for organizations such as the Jewish War Veterans and Hadassah."

Levy also takes pride in "the intangible benefits from bringing the community together under one roof. We're trying to create one Jewish community. Already, Kol Yisrael has hosted community-wide celebrations for Chanukah, Purim, and Sukkot. There is an excitement around the facility—it is full of people and events, full of life."

In March 2012, 900-household Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, New Jersey became the first Reform synagogue in the U.S. to achieve certification from GreenFaith, a national organization connecting religious communities to environmental leadership. Inspired by a URJ meeting about GreenFaith partnerships, Phil and Sue Hoch of TSTI's "Green Team" excitedly brought the program to Rabbi Dan Cohen, who embraced the idea, and then to TSTI's Board, to commit to transforming the congregation into an environmentally conscious place to learn and worship.

The congregation had previously conducted an energy audit, but now, using reference materials on GreenFaith's website, temple leaders began implementing a range of simple, low-cost measures that almost immediately reduced TSTI's energy usage. "Replacing a 20-year-old refrigerator with an Energy Star appliance required an initial investment, but other steps, such as posting signs to conserve clean water—a scarce resource on the earth—were low-to-no cost, and just as effective," says Phil Hoch. TSTI leaders began adjusting programming times to concentrate energy usage, enabling the synagogue to "go dark" on Thursday evenings. In summer, when services are held in the smaller chapel, the building housing TSTI's large sanctuary is practically shut down, saving on air conditioning costs. In addition, the congregation installed true seven-day programmable thermostats, which enable staffers to set back heat or air conditioning in areas of TSTI's three buildings whenever they're not in use.

GreenFaith also inspired temple leaders to modernize TSTI's lighting. "Rather than replace light fixtures, we decided to retrofit existing fixtures to accommodate smaller fluorescent bulbs, reducing energy usage to a fraction of the cost," Hoch says. "And, by adding motion sensors in bathrooms, lights remain off when not in use. Motion-activated water faucets and towel dispensers encourage reductions in water and paper use."

So far, TSTI's electrical usage has decreased by 14%. Combined with the congregation's other energy-saving steps, temple leaders estimate savings of $15,000-$20,000 per year. And leaders are proud to have accomplished all of these changes solely by using a budget line earmarked for building maintenance.

"The impact on the congregation has been huge," Hoch says, "but the effort doesn't have to be. Thinking small may actually have a bigger result." TSTI president Jay Rice says that "the [congregational] response has all been positive-and believe me, when there's a negative response, I hear about it. Everyone is glad we decided to do this. " And Rabbi Cohen adds: "When the synagogue changes its practices, it has the potential to influence every member."

TSTI is among four synagogues receiving sponsorship from the Union for Reform Judaism for its participation in the GreenFaith Certification Program. The pilot program began in 2010 with New Jersey synagogues and is now expanding to temples throughout the U.S. "GreenFaith certification results in increased building efficiency, but also encourages a broader conversation about the environment and good stewardship of the earth," says Isaac Nuell, manager of Congregational Social Action at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "It's the most achievable way to make the environment a priority."

Temple De Hirsch Sinai, a 1,500-household congregation, has combined energy efficiency with innovative sharing arrangements. Its two separate campuses on both sides of Lake Washington—a 100,000-square-foot building that fills an entire block in Seattle and a 35,000-square-foot building in Bellevue—give congregants the option to attend services or programs at either location. In addition to renting facilities to local Jewish organizations, civic groups, and members for events, De Hirsch Sinai further maximizes the buildings' profitability by offering "shared use" leases. On weekdays the temple leases its Seattle building's classrooms to a non-denominational independent middle school, and the third floor of its Bellevue facility to a Catholic elementary school, bringing in a combined rental income of nearly $600,000 per year.

"We have become adept in accommodating the schools that share our space," says Larry Broder, De Hirsch Sinai's executive director. "We know exactly how to transform from a Catholic elementary school to a Jewish religious school. Every Friday they take down the crosses and we put up Jewish stars. A little Velcro on the walls makes for a wonderful partnership."

De Hirsch Sinai has also saved money by updating its lighting at both facilities. In Seattle, the temple spent $2,600 to replace incandescent and old fluorescents with LED and new fluorescent bulbs; in Bellevue, local power companies gave the congregation $3,000 worth of LED upgrades at no cost to reduce energy consumption. With the estimated combined energy savings of $6,000 per year ($3,000 per facility), the temple expects to enjoy a high return on its lighting investment for years to come.

Leaders of Congregation Beth El, a 150-household temple in Bangor, Maine, had thought they'd done enough to maximize their facility's efficiency during the building's 2006 renovation. After all, they'd installed new double-paned windows, modernized the kitchen with Energy Star appliances, and covered the inside of the sanctuary's cathedral ceiling with foam panels, resulting in a 30% drop in the consumption of heating fuel.

But then, Laurie Osher joined the congregation's board of directors. A global change research scientist, she had just weatherized her own home, cutting the heating cost by half. She believed she could do the same for Beth El.

Still, when Osher first approached the temple board to ask for the needed funds, she met resistance. "We are a small congregation," says Osher, "there was no building fund, and most members felt that after the recent renovation, they should not need to re-address building issues." Yet, after an energy audit of the temple revealed that large amounts of outside air were coming in through gaps in walls and around doors and windows, the board agreed to her proposed Rosh Hashanah appeal to raise $25,000 to air-seal the facility.

Soon, with a successful appeal, Beth El was able to insulate another 45% of the sanctuary foundation and 10% of the entry foundation; augment insulation of flat ceilings, air seal openings in the building envelope, exterior doors, and doors between heating zones; and program thermostats in each zone based upon anticipated usage. In addition, by replacing a burner in the existing boiler, the congregation was able to switch from expensive heating oil to low-cost natural gas, saving an additional 20% on heating costs. And, despite increased use of the synagogue as well as the addition of major appliances, new fans, and lighting, the temple's electricity use has remained the same.

In the winter of 2011 and the spring of 2012, Temple Beth-El in San Antonio had a water problem. In the midst of one of the harshest droughts in Texas history, the temple was paying for 90,000 gallons of water per month to keep its cemetery lawn from turning brown—without success. Facilities manager Mike Kung then decided to replace the St. Augustine grass, which grows best in wet climates, with drought-tolerant native plants and drought-resistant Bermuda grass sourced from local farms. He also readjusted and began to regularly monitor the cemetery's irrigation system to make sure the sprinkler heads were working and water was covering the correct areas.

As a result, Beth-El has cut its water usage to 49,000 gallons/month, reducing its water bill by an average of $330 monthly. "Now," Kung says, "we have a long-term, reliable system that, with a little timely attention, continues to save water and money."

Here are 10 expert tips to assist any congregation seeking a more efficient facility:

1. Take the time to thoroughly analyze your current building use. Rebecca Schenker, AIA, an architect who specializes in the renovation of existing buildings, explains that "In conserving energy, there are four major areas to consider—the building envelope, HVAC, control systems, and lighting."

2. Seize low-hanging fruit. "Start your efficiency project with low-cost steps that will yield the biggest return," advises Stacey Kennealy of GreenFaith, an organization dedicated to inspiring people of diverse religions to engage in environmental leadership. "If you undertake a long, costly project first, congregants will quickly lose interest. However, if you take simple steps that result in immediate savings, you'll gain support for longer, more costly efforts. Start a fund with the energy savings from your first project to pay for the next one. An incremental approach helps congregants understand that these projects are really paying for themselves, and will result in substantial savings long term."

3. Upgrade your lighting. "By moving from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents, and then, as finances permit, to LED fixtures, you'll reduce your electric bills," Schenker says. "LED fixtures are not really light bulbs, but small computer circuits—a completely new technology that uses a small fraction of the wattage of incandescent bulbs, and lasts 20 to 25 years instead of the 3 to 5 years typical of incandescents. And LEDs will save congregations the hundreds or even thousands of dollars incurred every few years to erect scaffolding or bring in lifts to replace hard-to-reach bulbs on domed sanctuaries. Replacing older T-12 fluorescents with smaller, more efficient T-5s is another inexpensive, cost-efficient interim step."

4. Air-seal your building envelope, and seal doors between heating or cooling zones. "In most cases, actions which involve the lowest expense for the highest return involve air sealing the building envelope," Osher says. "An energy audit will test the air flow and determine where heat and air are escaping. By applying insulation to the outside and foundation walls, blowing insulation into the attic above flat ceilings, installing gaskets and caulking to fill holes, and ensuring that doors between zones close automatically and form a tight seal, congregations can eliminate much of their heating/air conditioning loss without spending the large amounts of money it takes to replace windows and doors."

5. Program your thermostats wisely. "Seven-day programmable thermostats, at $50-$70 each, are a low cost item that can realize immediate, significant returns," Kennealy says. "You can achieve substantial energy savings by turning down the temperature at night and when the building is not in use. Setting the thermostat down as low as 45º or as high as 85º will not endanger an organ or a Torah—the real concern is humidity." Even if your facility is in a humid climate, Kennealy advises: "Don't give up on setbacks. Figure out what works for your building and climate and use whatever setbacks you can, wherever you can—every degree counts."

6. Concentrate on the sanctuary. "Look where you spend the most on energy consumption and you'll likely find your best savings opportunities," Schenker says. "In most synagogues, the largest, most impressive, and costly room to heat, cool, and light is the sanctuary. It should be in a separate heating zone, and when not in use, its temperature aggressively set back, with the doors closed and well-sealed."

7. Maximize facility use. "Sharing building space or renting unused space for part of the week to outside groups can benefit the congregation monetarily, as well as increase its ties to the greater community," says Rabbi David Fine, the URJ's rabbinic director of the Small Congregations Network and its resident expert on synagogue mergers and sharing arrangements. "Increasing facility efficiency in this way is a win-win proposition: it's good politics, it's good economics, and it's good Judaism."

8. Monitor water use. "When landscaping grounds or cemeteries, minimize water use by using plants that survive well in the native environment," Schenker says. "Check timers and irrigation zones frequently for faulty irrigation. And utilize automatic sensors in sinks and low-flow toilets, both of which can result in savings."

9. Consult with GreenFaith, the URJ, and state IPLs. GreenFaith provides worksheets and ideas for energy analyses of synagogue facilities. Its two-year certification program offers guidance, mentoring, and resources to help synagogues save energy costs and implement green initiatives, and the URJ offers sponsorships to member congregations accepted into the program. Apply now or access resources created by the initial Greening Reform Judaism pilot congregations.

Forty U.S. states now have Interfaith Power and Light affiliates devoted to assisting faith communities in reducing their energy use by furnishing information and speakers on facility efficiency and through clean energy advocacy. Government energy programs often offer tax deductions, and local power companies may offer discounts or other incentives to "go green." The URJ's Rabbi David Fine (dfine@urj.org) and the Congregational Network team are available to consult on sharing arrangements and mergers.

10. Educate your congregation. "Members need to 'buy in,'" says Rabbi Fine, "so plan an initial program—show a film and/or have a rabbi or guest speaker address efficiency issues from a religious perspective. When members understand the importance of the goal, instead of resenting the extra few steps needed to make things work, they'll be eager to participate."

"People believe changes to the synagogue will make life unpleasant and are reluctant to spend on energy conservation," Osher says. "But when the work is done, it's highly satisfying on many levels. Everyone is pleased to be saving money, feeling more comfortable, and helping the environment. No one ever says, 'I wish we hadn't done that.'"

Julie Schwartz is a freelance writer, public speaker, New Orleans tour guide, and president of the New Orleans Chapter of Hadassah.