A quiet town outside Springfield, Wilbraham won’t soon be mistaken for the City of Lights.
But at Minnechaug Regional High School, the lights have shone day and night for more than a year, with no end in sight.
The ironic culprit? A glitch in the energy conservation software that runs the school’s lighting system and seemingly can’t be fixed.
“They are stuck either all on, or all off because of a server malfunction that occurred,” after a power outage in August 2021, The Smoke Signal, a student news site, reported that fall.
Since that outage, “all the lights in the high school have been on 24/7,” the school newspaper reported. “There is currently no manual way to control the lights other than a series of breaker switches that can only shut off whole sections.”
Edward Cenedella, the director of facilities and operations for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, told the Signal that the energy conservation software was installed when the high school was rebuilt in 2012 and it automatically controls about 7,000 lights in the building.
“On occasion, the software would go down and it would somehow get corrupted,” Cenedella said. “Unfortunately the last time it got corrupted it was unfixable.”
The company that installed the software wasn’t able to help either, Cenedella told the news site.
The company “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.”
As one might expect, leaving all the lights on for so long tends to run up the electric bill.
“However, because a lot of it is LED and low draw types of lighting it’s not as bad as it would have been in the old high school.” Cenedella told the Signal. “But again, it’s a waste of energy, and right now we feel helpless.”
In an Aug. 26 letter to town officials, the superintendent and assistant superintendent said it would cost $1.2 million to replace the lighting system and were working on a “piecemeal” approach, according to media reports.
“For now, the lights are stuck on and while it incurs some degree of added cost,” they wrote, “the lights all utilize highly efficient fluorescent and LED bulbs, we shut off a number of breakers daily for exterior lights, and have manually removed many bulbs and fixtures from classrooms.”
The issue with the lighting system was supposed to be addressed over the recent December break, but that didn’t happen. On Dec. 22, the company slated to do the work told school officials that they needed to reschedule, school officials said.
“This was surprising and disappointing to us,” Aaron Osborne, the assistant superintendent of finance, operations, and human resources for the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, wrote in a memo to the regional school committee on Jan. 3. “Unfortunately, because this remains a proprietary system, no other vendor can complete this work.”
On Friday, the district’s superintendent, John Provost, confirmed that the lights “are still stuck on and the work to fix the problem has been scheduled to happen during February vacation.”
This week, NBC News reported that the high school was still “lit up around the clock.”
“We are very much aware this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” Osborne told NBC News. “And we have been doing everything we can to get this problem solved.”
Watch out, Paris. Better not take Wilbraham lightly.