An Alexandria firm was given a $100,000 contract recently to show the people who run public buildings in Virginia things like caulking and weatherstripping and how to cut the temperature of a water heater.

Officials hope that such simple steps undertaken by custodians, supervisors and maintenance personnel will contribute to the saving of millions of gallons of increasingly valuable fuel this year in the operation of city halls, fire stations, hospitals, recreation centers, jails and other buildings run by state and local governments.

The Virginia program, to be launched next month by the Alexandria-based VVKR Partnership, is one of the first in the nation and the only federally funded one of its type so far in the mid-atlantic region. U.S. Energy Department officials say the program has the potential to save taxpayers in the state as much as $17.6 million during the next few years.

In the long run, the dollar savings could be even greater if the price of oil continues its expected rise, the officials say.

As many as 1,200 employes from more than 8,500 public buildings owned by Virginia state and local governments and nonprofit organizations are expected to participate next month in two-day seminars to be conducted by VVKR, an architectural and engineering firm.

In addition to techniques of avoiding energy waste, the seminars will deal with more sophisticated approaches to energy use involving changes in the heating and air conditioning units of the buildings themselves, according to Susan Mathews, an official of the Virginia State Division of Energy.

"In the long run, we hope to cut the use of energy in public buildings by as much as 30 percent or more," Mathews said.

"Until a few years ago, energy just wasn't very important to people. Now it is, and we will be able to show people what can be done and how simple and cheap it can be to do it," she said.tWhen the August seminars are completed, participants will be eligible to apply for federal matching funds to hire consultants if major structural and engineering changes in buildings are needed. If plans for structural changes are approved, Mathews said, federal matching funds will be available to carry them out.

Nationally, $900 million has been authorized for energy programs at schools and hospitals and an additional $65 million has been authorized for use in local government and public care facilities, according to a Department of Energy spokesman.

The funds were authorized under the National Energy Conservation Policy Act enacted by Congress last year.