Cold conditions cause cold lunches


DE PERE - The cold conditions have forced the De Pere school district to adjust.

For the last few days, Heritage Elementary and De Pere Middle School have been running on propane instead of natural gas. It was the district's way of trying to save money.

It's lunchtime at Heritage Elementary School in De Pere, but the natural gas stove is silent.

Heritage has been running on propane because of an agreement between the district and Wisconsin Public Service.

In exchange for lower rates, the district must use an alternate energy source during times of high demand.

Pre-kindergarten through fourth graders have been eating sandwiches, delivered pizza, and breakfast while the ovens rest.

“We did need to bring in a truck on Friday so that we were able to have food that we needed for today's menu,” said Deb Pockl, food service director.

Wisconsin Public Service says 28 of its customers - mainly businesses and schools - have signed up for the curtailment program. Savings include 5 percent on natural gas, and 25 percent on certain service charges.

“It's a balance. It's an option for customers to pick a choice and then adjust their consumption if they can,” said Kerry Spees, WPS spokesperson.

WPS says this winter, customers under the agreement have had to make the adjustments on 11½ total days.

“We get plenty of notice in terms of the gas company notifying us, so it's not like within one hour we have to change over. They're very good about that so we can adjust,” said De Pere School Superintendent Ben Villarruel.

The superintendent says the program saved the district money.

“The buildings were designed for that. They were built in the 1990s. It comes to about $7,000 a year,” said Villarruel.

WPS says warmer temperatures lifted the most recent ban.

The ovens are expected to be back on Tuesday.

“I think we're used to changing. We do whatever we have to do to make sure the kids have a good lunch, every single day,” said Pockl.

The district says this is only the second winter in nearly 20 years it has switched energy sources.