With so many school districts struggling for funds, these days, paying for necessary irrigation improvements is often low on the priority scale. This was the case for Bethel School District outside of Tacoma, Washington. District Irrigation Technician Michael Rushton had been a long-time central control user, and the district was mostly outfitted with older traditional central control systems. Managing school land within 202 square miles of district borders by himself, Rushton depended on his central control systems to efficiently operate the irrigation at many of his schools so he was able to focus on other important irrigation tasks.
As Rushton sought to upgrade additional school locations to central control, he was hitting a wall getting funding. “We have to spend our money very wisely,” Rushton explains. “We were having problems getting Maxicom installed because it is just too expensive.” After meeting with Troy Newman of Winsupply and Bob Bernards of Weathermatic, he decided to take a closer look at Weathermatic’s SmartLink Wireless Landscape Network. The irrigation management software connects Weathermatic’s WaterSense labeled SmartLine controllers and onsite weather stations via the cloud, providing all of the benefits of central control without the complexity, repairs, or cost.
Wary of paying a cloud service subscription every year, Facilities Director David Wells asked Rushton to justify the annual expense versus the one-time cost for a Maxicom setup. “When I was shown the difference between the price of our old specified controller and the SmartLink bundle packages, I was amazed. Michael proved that we could finish switching out the rest of the district for the cost of one high or middle school from the competitor’s pricing. ‘Frankly,’ I told him, ‘This is a no brainer, I will find the money to do this.’”
On Rushton’s recommendation the district changed their purchasing standard to SmartLink bundle packages. Each time one of their older systems fails, instead of paying to repair it, they replace it with a SmartLink bundle. Rushton points out that problems with their older systems are “usually very expensive and very difficult to fix” but any issues with the Weathermatic systems are “resolved really quickly. When I’ve had a problem it’s been painless to fix.”
Rushton says in his career he’s “had to learn how to run every controller on the market. The [Weathermatic] technology is very modern. Maxicom programming is extensive and takes a lot of chair time. That’s not where you want to be. With Maxicom I was having to run back to my desk, but with SmartLink I can pull it up on my laptop, cell phone, or iPad, and everything syncs.”
Managing so many diverse school properties means a wide variety of microclimates. Weathermatic’s onsite weather sensors appealed to Rushton because he knew they would make each location’s irrigation more efficient, keeping the landscape in better health and saving more water and money for the district.
Water efficiency, affordability and simplified management are all features that the sustainability-focused Bethel School District values in their new SmartLine irrigation systems with SmartLink cloud-based management. On Earth Day 2016, the U.S. Secretary of Education honored Bethel School District with a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Sustainability Award. Bethel was one of only 15 districts in the nation to receive the honor. The award recognizes schools and districts that make notable progress in three pillars of sustainability, including reducing environmental impact and costs. Resource efficient schools are able to dedicate more resources to instruction rather than operational costs.
Rushton feels it is part of his job to “make sure the public maintain a favorable view of the district” and his pursuit of affordable water-efficient technology is a huge step in that direction. According to Bethel Public Schools Resource Conservation Manager, Michael Knaack, “Part of the success of our nationally recognized energy program is supplying our technicians with the best tools available. This equipment is the next step in the evolution of our irrigation program.” Rushton agrees, “If you don’t have help, [SmartLink] is like having another employee or two with you. I can be at one corner of the district and get a call from the other corner with a request. I can pull up SmartLink and take care of it from where I’m at, without interrupting what I’m working on. It’s great to be that accessible without having to burn resources to do it.”
When regional drought conditions developed in the summer of 2015, local water utilities sent out notices of request for voluntary 10% usage reductions. Wells was impressed that “Michael was able to show through the reporting features of the Weathermatic program that the SmartLine controllers were already automatically exceeding that reduction by between 20 and 30 percent.” Knaack adds, “Even after ten years of streamlining our watering techniques, we still sought a more easy to obtain, accurate and reliable water management tool such as the Weathermatic product. The magic is that our investment in this technology will be paid back within one watering season.”