SIOUX CITY -- Most years, Ralph Guenther stays pretty busy making sure 31 Sioux City school district buildings are kept nice and toasty, even when temperatures outside plummet.

But that's most years.

"This year, we didn't start running the boilers until the week before Thanksgiving," he said.

Guenther and the 119 employees he supervises in the Sioux City schools Operations and Maintenance Department have been beneficiaries of one of the mildest falls and winters in recent memory.

National Weather Service data show Sioux City temperatures in November and December overall were 5 degrees warmer than average temps for previous years. The months also saw near-record-setting highs -- a balmy 67 degrees on Nov. 24 and 57 degrees on Dec. 18, both more than 25 degrees higher than the average highs in Sioux City.

Although the tepid weather has given way to more typical winter temperatures, the unusual climate pattern left an impact on operations and finances for the school district and municipalities.

Sioux City Field Services Manager Brian Fahrendholz said crews normally taxed with clearing snow from roads were able to work on potholes and removing trees. They also tackled street-cleaning projects delayed by Missouri River flooding this summer.

Fire Department crews also installed programmable thermostats and energy efficient garage doors during the warm period, said fire Chief Tom Everett.

It will take months to fully gauge the impact on expenses, although it will almost certainly translate into savings.

Wilbur Aalfs Library at Pierce and Sixth streets, for example, saved about $1,817 on electric and gas bills for October, November and December compared with the same time in 2010. Director Betsy Thompson said some of the savings can be attributed to renovations during the time period, which meant no computers were being used.

Any money not used this budget year for utilities will be rolled over into next year's budget. Additionally, supplies like salt, sand and fuel will be saved and used later.

As of Jan. 1, the city had used about 1,320 tons of salt this fiscal year, which ends in June. By comparison, about 7,000 tons was used for the entire 2009-2010 fiscal year.

For school districts, the biggest savings will likely be in heating costs.

"I know we're saving money with this nice winter," said Guenther, the Sioux City schools worker. (District officials said they're still calculating the total savings.)

Heating costs for October, November and December are down about $175 in the Sergeant Bluff-Luton Community School District and about 20 percent in South Sioux City Community Schools over the previous year, officials said.

Jerry King, who runs the maintenance department for Dakota Valley School District, said he expects the school system will save about 30 percent in heating costs over the previous year.

"When it gets to 40-50 degrees, there's not much (heating) load," he said. "Your students are 98.6-degree heaters and you put 25 of them in a classroom."


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