By Bill Taylor, AIA, LEED-AP, DLR Group Principal
Evidence abounds that sustainable factors greatly impact the success of a school. Agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the American Lung Association to the National Education Association agree on the following: Improved indoor-air-quality assures healthy students and staff resulting in lower absentee rates; and day-lighting can affect student performance. The end result is that conserving resources has the potential to help districts redirect dollars back to the classroom rather than out the door for maintenance and repairs.
While new schools seem to have the greatest advantage in providing the latest in sustainable, high-performance technology, the fact is that the average school in the U.S. was built over 40 years ago according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The good news is that even these older school campuses have equal opportunity to improve their energy efficiency factors through three levels of investment: no-cost, low-cost and smart-investment strategies.
When to Renovate
A good rule of thumb to determine when a facility needs renovation is every 18-20 years or every new generation. If a building is within this age span, four questions can help determine when it's time to make some changes.
1) Is the school population growing?
2) Are warranties for systems about to expire?
3) Has the delivery of curriculum changed to the point that new space is required?
4) Is the condition of the building affecting our teacher's ability to teach and the student's ability to learn?
If any of these questions are answered in the affirmative, it may be time to start planning ways to modernize, renovate or retrofit a facility using more resource-efficient systems and strategies.
Develop a district-wide standard of measurable high-performance goals. An example of such goals is seen at Scottsdale Unified School District. According to Assistant Superintendent David Peterson, their 2004 bond goals included: Lower maintenance by 25-30% for $1 million savings/year; reduce repair costs saving $92 million in capital expenditures over 10 years and extended life and lower life-cycle costs for the schools.
1) Create a resource-conscious culture. This includes assigning responsibilities for common areas to ensure that lights and PCs are turned off and that recycling and water conservation opportunities are part of the daily routine.
2) Control classroom temperatures - For every degree on the thermostat, there is a 1% impact on energy use and cost.
3) Establish plug load plan. Unplug power strips when not in use.
4) Measure and verify - Benchmark your school energy and water consumption over a period of time. Use this to determine improvements after changes in operation or systems are in place.
5) Optimize your existing systems with regular maintenance of chiller tubes and filter replacement. Fine tune automation systems and assess weaknesses or trouble areas before breakdown.
Measure and verify at a more detailed level than mentioned in the no-cost strategy. Consider a retro-commissioning of your systems. (Commissioning is a service that licensed specialists or engineers can deliver, providing a review of all operating systems to determine levels of performance and areas needing improvement.)
1) Automate with scheduled shut-off of lighting, appliances, motorized dampers, exhaust fans and water heaters, using a low-tech time clock. Further invest in programmable thermostats or occupancy sensors to better control use of electricity.
2) Optimize your energy usage with lighting upgrades, replacing standard 32W lamps with T8 lamp technology. This gives the same light output characteristics while using 12% less power.
3) Consider light-color interior finishes for better light reflectance and less use of illumination.
4) Replace dated equipment with energy efficient equipment, upgraded door and window hardware seals and closers, high performance roofing insulation.
If funds are available for more extensive investment in modernizing a school, consider the following:
1) Measure and verify with in-depth software analysis such as TRACE 700 or Revit. These are systems that most architecture or engineering firms are familiar with and can run based on input provided by a school district. These systems allow the user to use "energy modeling" to establish an accurate energy budget.
2) Automate your building using systems that use controls to properly operate chillers, monitor outdoor conditions and reset chilled water temperatures, use occupancy sensors for lighting and cooling systems.
3) Optimize lighting design to avoid over-lighting for specific tasks. Install high-performance glazing, shade canopies, overhangs and sun screens to minimize heat gain, or skylights and clerestory windows to optimize day lighting without increasing heat gain.
Regardless of levels of investment, any school, new or old, can make an impact on both the natural and the learning environments while benefiting the budget of any school district.
Published in the Spring 2009 Arizona School Boards Association Journal.