Trumbull Family Fitness Gets ‘Brite’ Ideas to Improve Energy Efficiency

WARREN, Ohio – Dan Cook had a couple of things planned for Friday, but quickly rescheduled to make room for a daylong event benefitting a Warren community pillar.

Brite Energy Innovators CEO and president Rick Stockburger reached out to Cook earlier this week and invited him to Britehack 2021 to lead a problem-solving team. Cook owns Solarstone Energy & Finance, which focuses on commercial, industrial and utility scale solar projects predominantly in Ohio. 

Cook put his expertise to use with his teammates – Maddy Urig, Jude Dupart and Robert Jadloski – to support Trumbull Family Fitness, the beneficiary of this year’s Britehack event..

In Friday’s virtual hackathon – a daylong event from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – participants came up with ideas for how to reduce energy costs and improve efficiency at Trumbull Family Fitness. The organization is based in the former YMCA building in downtown Warren. Because of the building’s age and condition, it’s not energy efficient and has an electricity bill of between $3,500 and $,4000 per month, according to executive director Paulette Edington.

 A panel of judges – including Brite chief technical officer Bill Whittenberger – picked Cook’s team as the winner, earning them a first-place prize of $1,244. The other judges were Dick Thompson, Thompson Foundation, electrical engineer and entrepreneur; Kurt Sauer, Sauer Engineering; Alan Burnett, Burnett Pools; and Keith Bowser, Clark Dietrich.

The second-place team, taking home $777 in prize money, had Muhammad Ejaz as team leader with Ron Butch, Derek Cowburn and Clara Oromendia. 

The coronavirus pandemic complicated this year’s Britehack, as teams met virtually and weren’t able to tour the building.

“It’s hard to get an idea when you’re not on site and can’t really look under the hood,” Cook said. Eventually, though, teams were able to make their own assessment thanks to a custom-made webpage for the event that featured 360-degree images of the building. They also had access to electric and gas bills, floorplans, a statement listing the problems with Trumbull Family Fitness, along with the calculated energy usage by device.

The team followed an outline introducing one another and figuring out what problem they had to solve. What options did they consider for their solution and why they selected that solution? The solution consisted of an analysis, design and calculations. Each team presented their cost/benefit analysis, along with next steps for Trumbull Family Fitness.

“It was harder than I would have thought,” Cook said. “The walk-through in a way helped us prioritize just because again you don’t know what it looks like inside. You don’t know how the building is being treated, how it’s being used. When you walk in, there are exercise bikes in the lobby. It makes you think twice and makes you think what are the things that actually matter to this institution that’s been here for so long.”

There are four major breakers powering Trumbull Family Fitness and its equipment, including lights, boilers for steam heat, pool pumps, filters and heaters, exercise equipment and other items as needed. The power comes from a single connection to the grid and there are no backup generators in place for the facility. 

Outdated lighting in a second floor hallway of Trumbull Family Fitness.

When the power fails, a gravity-fed drain continues to drain the main pool, creating the loss of 100,000 gallons of water that leads to flooding in the basement.

“I imagine that the basement has flooded a couple of times, maybe up to the ceiling,” Cook said. “That’s something that’s more than efficiency. That’s more than cost savings. That’s more than reducing your operations expenses.”

As for the lights, Edington sees the front lobby, knowing they are simultaneously on in the adjacent boys locker room, which hasn’t been in use all afternoon. She said she’s hoping those on the Britehack teams can come up with a plan to separate those access points and light switches. 

“That would help us save on electricity, a whole lot in electricity,” Edington said.

She said switching to all LED lighting, which has happened in some other parts of the building, would save Trumbull Family Fitness on its monthly electric bill.

However, she hopes the recommendations fit within Trumbull Family Fitness’, whether it’s in upgrading the electric panels or other updating other parts of the building.

“We may need to spread some things out, but I’m confident that they’re going to come up with some kind of a blueprint to be able to give us on what are the next steps,” she said. “I believe we may have to plan that out because I know there’s going to be a great cost associated with whatever this plan is going to be.”

A proper energy audit, Cook noted, could pinpoint more options for the gym and put Trumbull Family Fitness on the path to implementing comprehensive solutions.

“You’ve got to involve some electrical contractors, do a good job and hopefully deliver a good return on the investment,” Cook said.

Daniel Sylak, marketing and events specialist at Brite, said each participant was asked a series of questions at registration to get a better idea of people’s experience levels and backgrounds, including day-to-day responsibilities.

He said that helped determine who would be suited to be team leaders, then building out teams from there.

“Going off of people’s experience and educational backgrounds, whether they were engineers or project managers or business people,” he said, “we created curated teams based on what we thought would be the fairest distribution of skill sets.” 

Sponsoring the 2021 Britehack were the Western Reserve Port Authority and the Thompson Foundation, while Covelli Enterprises and AVI Foodsystems were meal partners. FirstEnergy Corp. and Cortland Bank were prize sponsors. PNC Bank was the title sponsor, while WFMJ-TV was the media sponsor.

“It’s an important agency, not just to us in helping it’s growth from inception, but it’s value to our community,” said Anthony Trevena, the port authority’s economic development director and Brite vice chairman.

“Britehack is an especially important event this year because it will benefit Trumbull Family Fitness, which aims to enhance the quality of life for all in the community,” said PNC’s Youngstown regional president Ted Schmidt, who’s been involved with Brite for more than a decade.

“As a founding board member and investor, watching this organization start 11 years ago as an incubator concept [Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center] to now be recognized as a national, region and state incubator focused on energy and entrepreneur development has been a rewarding experience,” added Stan Feret, Cortland Bank chief lending officer and Brite treasurer.

Ralph Zerbonia, co-founder of The Business Journal, was part of the winning group in 2018 and a team leader this year.

“I thought it’d be fun to join,” he said. “You know, the uninvolved life is not worth living, just on that basis.”

He found the prospect of Britehack intriguing, mind-stretching if you will. Zerbonia, who lives in Mahoning County, calls himself a generalist, listens to the group and asks the obvious questions specialists might not realize. He harkens back to his experience in 2018 to being a “fly on the wall,” studying a subject he finds interesting in a room full of experts. 

“It’s really nice,” Zerbonia said. “You’re learning. You’re hearing people logically work through a problem and recognizing that you might not understand all of it, but you can get something out of that and use it somewhere else. Problems are problems.”

Pictured: Trumbull Family Fitness executive director Paulette Edington shows the treadmills in the fitness room of the downtown Warren facility.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.