The lights at Massachusetts’ Minnechaug Regional High School burn ever bright. They actually never turn off. They can’t turn off. The smart lighting system for the entire building is broken, and it’s stuck in the “on” position. It has apparently been this way for over a year now, and the electric bills are really starting to pile up.
“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” the school district’s assistant superintendent of finance, Aaron Osborne, told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”
That is … wild … but it gets worse:
The school’s entire “green lighting system,” some 7,000 lights, was installed over a decade ago and was supposed to save money, but according to the report, “the software that runs it failed on Aug. 24, 2021” and no one has been able to turn off the lights for the following 17 months. Teachers are adjusting by unscrewing light bulbs at the end of the day and throwing some breakers not connected to vital parts of the school. Dimming the lights to show movies or something projected on a whiteboard has also been difficult: The lights are on full brightness all the time.
According to Lilli DiGrande, News Editor of the student newspaper, the reason behind the lights being on all the time is software that no one knows has access to anymore.
Edward Cenedella, the Director of Facilities and Operations for the Hampden Wilbraham Regional School District, says that the issue is more complicated than just a computer server problem.
When the high school was rebuilt in 2012, an energy conservation software was added which relied on a daylight harvesting system for the lights to use daylight to equalize the light in the room. Cenedella estimates that there are about 7,000 lights in the building, all of which individually send information through wires to a computer which determines how much light to keep that particular one on. This system is owned by a company called 5th Light.
“On occasion, the software would go down and it would somehow get corrupted. We would try to recycle it and eventually everything would come back on,” Cenedella said. “Unfortunately the last time it got corrupted it was unfixable.”
It gets worse again:
Gaining access to the software that runs the lights is one of the main reasons why the lights can’t be adjusted correctly. “[5th Light] no longer has any of that information. They don’t have the software,” Cenedella said. “The old information is proprietary, so they wouldn’t originally give it to us. Now, they say that they don’t have it and that it’s unavailable.”
It seems that 5th Light has had several owners in the decade since the installation at Minnechaug Regional High School, and the current company — now named Reflex Lighting — says the only way to resolve the issue to replace the entire system.