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Lights off at BGSU

The oldest buildings on campus, Moseley, University and Hanna halls, can be considered creepy in the day time, but imagine what they are like when all the lights are off at night.  On the outside, the old brick is covered with long vines, which make their way down the sides of the buildings.  As they walk through Moseley, the old floors creak with each step, while the theaters in Hanna and University become even eerier as the lights go out.  In order to reduce the university’s energy costs, students brave their fears and venture through their hallways and classrooms.

Junior, Jennie Hartman, participates in Friday Night Lights for the first time. "I think it's a great organization, and I definitely want to do it again," she said. Photo by Hannah Mingus.

Every Friday night, students at Bowling Green State University participate in Friday Night Lights, an effort to turn out lights in academic buildings on Friday nights.  The program aims to help the university save money and become a “greener” campus.

At 6:30 p.m. each Friday, between 10 and 30 students meet outside of the Bowen Thompson Student Union Theatre.  Students then divide and conquer – they split up into small groups and are given a clipboard with their assigned building on it. The clipboard gives them a list of rooms/ hallways on each floor, and how many light banks they can shut off for the weekend. After all the lights have been shut off, the students meet back in Olscamp to turn in their clipboards. The process usually takes less than an hour to complete.

Nick Hennessy, BGSU’s sustainability coordinator, has worked with the project since it was first launched in October 2009 by a former student, Dustin Sabo. Sabo first came up with the idea after learning of a similar program called Friday Night Lights Off at Penn State. He contacted Hennessy to help him figure out which buildings it would be beneficial to turn lights off in, figure out how to save money and keep track of it each week, and most importantly, how to get volunteers to help out with the program.

“It had good timing because it takes place before students’ Friday night plans,” Hennessy said. “Students want to help out, and it’s convenient community service and a fun event.”

Sabo gathered volunteers from his major, middle-childhood education, which is where he got his “core” group. Hennessy put information about it on an email list for environmental majors, and on the campus update. They relied a lot on word of mouth from students.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Bailey has been working with the program since nearly the beginning.

“It makes a huge impact with such little effort, and makes you feel really good that just by giving like 30 minutes of your time, you are making such a change every single week,” she said.  “It’s also fun because you get to do it with friends and we always leave with inside jokes that will never get old.”

Bailey said one of her favorite memories of the group was when she and a few other volunteers discovered a box of free board games in East Hall, as well as a time when they accidentally turned the lights out on someone in the bathroom.

There was no opposition to the program when it started, but students did come across one problem.

“They unplugged the TV’s in the Business Administration, since no one looks at them,” Hennessy said. “They got flack for that since staff said they needed them on all weekend for weekend events.”

In fall of 2010, Friday Night Lights saved the University $13,260, according to Hennessy.   Students turned off lights every Friday of the semester up to Dec. 10, not including the Friday after Thanksgiving. The best savings last semester occurred one week in September with $1,012, while the lowest occurred in November with $826. The average savings is usually between $800 and $950 per week, according to Hennessy.  By not having lights on all weekend when no one is in the buildings, the university’s electric bill becomes substantially lower.

Various light switches across campus are labeled with the "Power Down BGSU" sticker to help remind students and faculty to switch off lights when not in use. Photo by Hannah Mingus

The program saves the most money by turning off lights in Education, Olscamp, Math Science, B.A. and Life Science buildings. Not because they are the “biggest energy hogs,” but because those buildings have much more going on, so there are more lights to turn off, according to Hennessy.

The only buildings on campus the volunteers do not go are the dorms, the Administration Building, and student affairs buildings such as Bowen Thompson Student Union, the rec center, field house and Jerome Library. Many of these buildings have their own process for turning off the lights, or they don’t have enough hallway light switches available.

BGSU is currently working on a project called Energy Control Management, which may put the Friday Night Lights staff out of a job in the near future. The project will have two phases. Phase 1 has already started, and it will involve replacing the heat/ ventilation, ducts and valves in buildings and having set point temperatures with digital controls. Phase 2 will deal with lighting and put motion sensor lighting in the buildings.

“It will be like Friday Night Lights every night of the week and day,” he said.

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