DELAVAN — Delavan-Darien High School may soon become a community-wide emergency shelter following a recent installation of a new building-wide generator system.
That’s just one of the benefits of the new natural gas-powered Kohler unit, said Gary Aull, district facilities and grounds director.
The 150-kilowatt generator will kick on automatically in the event of a power outage, keeping all essential building systems online, including emergency lighting, heating and cooling systems, phones, computer and internet servers, food storage and food preparation.
“We have already had conversations with the Red Cross and, should our immediate area experience a crisis, such as a tornado, flood or chemical spill, this generator will allow the high school to become a temporary shelter and serve our citizens,” Aull said.
While that’s the rare, but potentially life-saving scenario, the generator will also help the school district maintain operations in prolonged power outage events.
“The high school is the ‘head end’ of a lot of the systems we use,” Aull said. “If there is a significant power outage there, the computers and phone systems at all of our schools go offline. This generator will prevent that, keeping our other schools that may still have power online.”
Even if power outages are short lived, it takes some time to bring phone, computer and communication systems back online without a backup power system. The battery backups in place for computer and phone systems are only usable for a few hours at most.
“A few years ago, squirrels got into the electrical substation and knocked out power to about half the city,” Aull said. “The high school went down and so did the computer and phone systems at all of our schools because of that.”
In theory, schooling at DDHS could even continue in a prolonged power outage on with just the new backup generator powering the building’s essential systems. Some classrooms might only receive window light or backup lighting, but students could still use their battery-powered Chromebooks and remain online for learning to continue. And the building would remain heated or cooled depending on the season.
Some electrical systems inside the building need to be updated before the generator is fully functional. It is expected to go online in early April.
“We hope to have the system ready in time for the spring storm season,” Aull said. “That’s when we see the most power interruptions in our area.”
Turtle Creek Elementary School, with a smaller generator, is the only other district facility that has long-lasting backup power, Aull said. The district has plans outfit the other three schools — Phoenix Middle School, Darien Elementary and Wileman Elementary — with emergency generators in the coming years so they too could remain functioning and also be potentially used for community disaster shelters.
“Our schools are publicly-funded, and we should absolutely make sure they can be available for public use in times of crisis,” Aull said.