Cutting Costs From the Inside Out
Budget-pressed district administrators looking for ways to save money are finding them right before their eyes - in the infrastructure of their school facilities. From carpets, flooring and roofing to playing fields, HVAC systems and windows and doors, districts are discovering products for core building elements that sometimes cost more initially but pay off in reduced maintenance and replacement expenses, thereby providing long-term savings whether installed in construction of new buildings or rehabilitations of old ones.
Some products offer an additional benefit: they are environmentally friendly, providing education lessons for students and gaining the support of citizens in local communities whose taxes ultimately pay for them.
Through February this year, K12 school construction contract awards for additions, alterations and new construction, including vocational schools, totaled nearly $4 billion, according to cost data provided by McGraw-Hill Construction to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities at the National Institute of Building Sciences. McGraw-Hill projects $36.2 billion in K12 construction contracts will be awarded this year. Contracts awarded last year totaled $33.2 billion.
Recognizing that the overall costs of operating school systems are likely to increase while budgets remain tight, districts are investing in products and systems when schools are newly built or rehabilitated that they hope will serve their buildings well for many years. "We want to grow into them instead of out of them," says Joseph Marrone, senior director of administrative services in the Quaker Valley (Pa.) School District, which has renovated its four school buildings for what it anticipates will be the long haul.
Some districts also are turning to professional engineering and consulting firms that can advise them on how to identify improvements their buildings need, how much they will cost, and how to go about finding and paying for cost-effective products.
"The ultimate goal is to save dollars and cents," says Michael Kalemkaryan, project engineer at TMAD Taylor & Gaines (TTG) in Pasadena, Calif., which is helping the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and others do that.
No Rain Roofs
Until about 10 years ago, when it rained in the Texas Gulf Coast area the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District southeast of Houston had to patch about 600 leaks in the buildings' roofs, says Ron Loveless, the district's director of maintenance. Now Goose Creek doesn't have any leaks. It covered its buildings in roofing from Tremco and uses a new Tremco program that provides regular inspections and maintenance.
Most roofing customers don't care what's over their heads, they just don't want it to leak, says David S. Adams, director of the education and government solutions team at Tremco. School districts can prevent leakage and also save money as Goose Creek did if they pay attention not just to the roofing they install but also to its maintenance, Adams says.
"The problem with a lot of districts is not having enough maintenance funds available. So with no preventive maintenance program, they put a new asset in place and manage it to failure," he says.
With Tremco ManagedAssets (TMA), a patented program the company launched a year ago, districts are offered a three-step approach to plan and manage costs through a roof's life cycle.
Tremco has inspectors look at roofs to determine their condition. They also do some preventive maintenance.
"Most of the time, you don't see consultants doing preventive maintenance. They'll tell you what you need, but it's up to you to get it done," Adams says.
In the second phase, Tremco delivers its recommendations to the district for managing its roofing assets. The plan outlines work needed to reach a "start-up standard" within two years, which may include maintenance, repair, restoration or replacement, and can be tailored to fit within a district's budget.
The third phase includes annual inspections, preventive maintenance and ongoing responses to leaks if they occur.
In each phase, Tremco assumes technical responsibility and financial risk for a roof's performance at a fixed price. "This program is aimed at preventing roofs from leaking rather than simply responding to leaks as they occur," Adams explains.
The bottom line for school districts, he says, is that they will save money because they will extend the life of their roofing assets. "When you extend its life, you're bringing down its annual cost," he says.
Other roofing producers include Firestone Building Products, which offers a comprehensive line of roofing systems.
Linoleum, a common hard-surface flooring in many schools, is not new. "It's been around since about 1865, so we are not into what you would call bleeding-edge technology," says Casey Johnson, national sales manager for Forbo Flooring Systems, an industry leader.
The basic linoleum product that many schools use is vinyl composition tile (VCT), which Johnson calls "the cheapest, most expensive floor" because although it costs only about $2 per square foot to install, "you're going to spend roughly that much per year to maintain it," Johnson says.
Some school districts are installing a new Forbo product, Marmoleum composition tile (MCT), which costs more up front-a guaranteed installation price up to $3.45 per square foot-but saves money long term because it's easier to maintain, Johnson says. The name-Marmoleum-essentially means marbleized linoleum.
Unlike vinyl tile, marbleized linoleum requires no costly stripping and recoating over its life and is anti-static, so dust and dirt do not stick to it, according to Forbo. Also, MCT combats MRSA, or staph infection, and other strains of bacteria, unlike VCT's open seams that provide a breeding ground for bacteria. The marbleized linoleum is quieter underfoot than vinyl tile, and is more repairable from scratches, gouges and burns than vinyl.
Johnson says Marmoleum is suitable for multipurpose rooms, corridors, classrooms and auxiliary gymnasiums.
It's "working out great" in the Norwalk La Mirada (Calif.) School District, which ripped out its old VCT tiles and installed Marmoleum in its multipurpose facilities two years ago, says John Wysocki, the district's maintenance and operations manager. "I haven't had one failure yet-no sliding tiles, no goo coming through," Wysocki says.
It cost up to 40 percent more than vinyl tile to install, but without having to strip and wax it, maintenance savings have made it so worthwhile that the district, with 35 schools, is installing it now in all its kitchens and portable restrooms, Wysocki reports.
Other districts are using another flooring product, RexCourt, for gyms and multipurpose rooms. Its features include a polyurethane coating that reduces maintenance costs and an antibacterial surface coating that provides a healthy environment, particularly in a gym, says Rich Campbell, executive vice president of Gerbert Limited, the U.S. distributor for RexCourt, which is manufactured by LG Corp., a Korean conglomerate.
The Dysart (Ariz.) Unifi ed School District has RexCourt in gyms in all of its 19 schools. "We used to use VCT, which requires a lot of work with the maintenance. With RexCourt, we go in once or twice a week and run over it with the auto scrubber and it's done," reports Bob Young, the district's director of maintenance and facilities.
Young acknowledges that RexCourt costs more up front-about $30,000 more per site than vinyl tile-but "it pays for itself over the years." The additional cost includes waterproofing beneath the flooring "to make sure we don't have any moisture problems," he says.
Other flooring producers include Johnsonite, which claims its linoleum can save up to 30 percent on maintenance and 50 percent on water, detergents and energy over its lifetime.
Quiet, Sturdy Carpets
When the Houston County (Ga.) Schools installed 3.8 million square feet of new carpeting in all its classrooms and administrative areas more than 10 years ago, it selected carpet tiles from Shaw Contract Group, a leading flooring provider, and it hasn't been sorry.
"It never, ever wears out. We'll dirty it out before we wear it out. We clean it once a year," says Cecil Parker, the district's director of maintenance. Other carpeting usually requires more frequent cleaning.
Parker cannot calculate how much it has saved the district in lower maintenance costs and a longer life cycle, but he knows the district made the right choice when it went for tiles instead of roll carpeting. With tiles, if an area of carpet goes bad, usually from wear, "you just take out a few pieces and replace them" instead of replacing the entire carpet, Parker says.
But Houston County hasn't had to do that. It's lasted for 10 years, Parker says.
Carpet tiles are worthy for a "better return on your investment," agrees Susan Buchanan, project manager for VFA, a Boston-based fi rm that helps districts strategically manage their facility assets and maximize their capital investments.
According to studies by the Carpet and Rug Institute and other organizations, K12 teachers overwhelmingly like carpet more than hard flooring in classrooms. They believe it absorbs noise, adds a touch of homelike comfort and improves the learning environment for students.
"Children learn through having teachers speak to them, so acoustics are vitally important. Carpets can virtually eliminate any noise from the movement of chairs and desks and the scuffling of feet," says Daniel Collins, director of education markets for Shaw.
"It's important that students in the back of the class hear just as well as the ones in front," asserts David Daughtrey, director of education for The Mohawk Group, another carpet company. With hard-surface floors, sounds resonate throughout the room, but carpet deadens sounds so they don't echo, he adds. ficulty. Instead, they can be removed from the fiber on top. "We put as much effort into creating a backing that performs as we do in creating a pattern that is aesthetically pleasing," says Collins.
He and Daughtrey add that the backings are recyclable, thereby reducing landfill waste-an environmental benefit.
Solar Power Pays Off
With energy costs rising, some school districts looking for reliable but less expensive power sources for their HVAC systems and other uses, including lighting and computers, are turning to one of the oldest sources of renewable energy: the sun.
At the Top of the World Elementary School in the Laguna Beach (Calif.) Unified School District, energy costs have dropped 27 percent since the school began using solar power two years ago, reports Eric Jetta, the district's director of facilities and grounds.
"By making the investment in on-site solar electricity, districts can usually come up with some small short-term savings but more importantly, they can protect themselves against rising energy costs in the future," says Mike Hall, president of Borrego Solar Systems, the contractor that worked with Laguna Beach on the Top of the World project.
Up-front installation costs can be substantial-up to $2 million for a single school, Hall says, which may be a barrier to solar in some districts. Since solar systems are inherently maintenance-free, the initial cost is the major financial element.
"It involves a signifi cant capital outlay, but there are ways they can do these projects," Hall says. For one thing, he points to grant, rebate and tax credit programs at local, state and federal levels that enable districts to invest in solar without having to carry all the costs.
California, where more districts are adopting or considering solar, offers a special rebate for schools and nonprofi t organizations that purchase solar, Hall adds.
Power purchase agreements (PPAs) also off er districts a way to go solar with little if any up-front cost. A PPA, like the one the Laguna Beach ISD used with Borrego, is a contract between a private company and a district or individual school.
Under it, the company provides, installs and maintains the solar system, then receives monthly payments from the district over the life of the contract, usually 20 to 30 years. The payments are no more, and often less than, the district's monthly electric bills.
The key difference between such an agreement and a conventional cash purchase of a solar system is that with a PPA, the company, not the district, owns the system. And the provider company handles complicated rebate or tax credit paperwork, and necessary repairs.
When the contract term is up, the district has the option of making a one-time financial outlay to purchase the system if it desires. Otherwise, the power agreement provider removes the system at no cost to the district. "No matter how you slice it and dice it, it's going to save a district money," Hall says.
Another major solar provider, Honeywell Building Solutions, is installing solar under PPAs in the Poway and Pleasanton unified school districts in California. The projects are expected to save more than $1 million in energy costs in Poway and $2.5 million in Pleasanton over the course of their 20-year contracts.
Beyond financial savings, solar provides signifi cant environmental benefits. In terms of carbon reduction, the Top of the World project equals planting about 12 acres of trees, Hall says.
Environmental issues are important in the Laguna Beach district, with an "extremely affluent and highly educated" constituency, says Jetta. So there was support when the district board of education considered the project at Top of the World in 2005, he says.
The district is considering installing solar systems at other schools as well, but funding is still an issue. "We have a list of major projects to do, and the economy influences the priorities," Jetta says.
Meanwhile, the system at Top of the World is paying off in other ways. In a kiosk in the multipurpose room, students can learn from diagrams and graphs how sunlight converts to electricity. "Some of them are so fascinated they call me and ask questions," says Jetta.
During district holidays and recesses, when school is closed, the system keeps operating, although the electricity it produces is fed back into the Southern California Edison electricity grid "so our neighbors, all the people on the same grid, benefi t from it," Jetta says.
Field of Dreams
In many school districts, natural grass no longer is desirable for playing fields. Administrators are finding they can save money with artifi cial turf like FieldTurf, the name of a product and the company that manufactures it.
"There is typically a higher up-front cost to put it in, which scares some schools away, no doubt about that. But when you look at it over a 10-year period, the turf fields are much cheaper," says Darren Gill, FieldTurf's director of marketing.
Depending on maintenance costs, he says, natural grass might cost up to $60 per hour of usage to maintain. For a Field- Turf field, which combines silica sand and rubber granules, it's usually no higher than $18 per hour over 10 years.
The Amarillo (Texas) Independent School District is realizing the cost savings. Leaders there installed FieldTurf to replace natural grass in its central stadium 10 years ago and reduced annual spending from more than $50,000 to just $6,000 for the field, says Tex Nolan, the district's athletic director.
"We're in the Southwest, where not enough water is an issue. We were spending up to $35,000 on water alone for that field," Nolan says.
In addition to eliminating that expense, the district cut the cost of a fulltime employee because without a need for watering and mowing, the field is "a lot easier to maintain," Nolan says. The field is used for football, baseball and soccer as well as for physical education classes, he says. Installing FieldTurf in the stadium, which seats 15,000 fans and serves the district's four high schools, was a test, Nolan says. "It has exceeded our expectations in savings, wear and safety," he says.
Amarillo's district plans to install FieldTurf multipurpose fields at each of the four high schools and replace the one at the stadium.
High Maintenance Doors
When it comes to maintenance, no building parts might require more attention than doors, particularly those made of wood or hollow metal that are subject to damage from the weather, graffiti and vandalism and require repainting and frequent replacement. Some districts have found a better product in doors made of fi berglass reinforced polyester (FRP) that resist scratching, denting, staining and sagging and, therefore, require little maintenance and have longer lives, resulting in lower costs.
They won't corrode and "you don't have to paint them before you hang them, as you have to do with hollow metal," says Daniel Depta, manager of marketing at Special-Lite, a manufacturer.
Also, graffiti from spray paint, felt markers and other sources can easily be removed from FRP doors with cleaning products without adversely affecting the finish, and the doors don't have to be repainted each time, as do hollow metal doors to keep them from rusting, Depta says. Eventually, he adds, hollow metal doors will rust from the inside out.
Further, FRP doors contain insulation that provides a better thermal barrier than hollow metal, Depta says. Environmentally, Special-Lite's doors are certified by the Greenguard Environmental Institute for indoor air quality for their low chemical and particle emissions.
The Kenowa Hills (Mich.) Public Schools installed Special-Lite doors on its buildings in 1998, and 10 years later they "seem to be holding up really well," reports Mike McCarty, the district's buildings and grounds supervisor. There have been no manufacturing issues, and although "we've had to clean off stuff ," there has been no need to repaint the doors, McCarty says.
McCarty, who came to Kenowa Hills in 2000, says he does not know much it cost to install the Special-Lite doors, so he can't gauge overall cost savings since then.
Energy efficiency that can impact HVAC costs also is a factor in purchasing windows. Some districts are turning to the latest generation of aluminum windows like those from TRACO, which has been manufacturing windows and doors for more than 60 years. The company claims its NEXGEN technology produces the most energy-efficient aluminum windows in the marketplace.
Through E-GEN, a software program that TRACO provides, districts can analyze the efficiency of their buildings when using TRACO windows versus competitive products. "You can lay out the specs of your buildings, put in an existing wood-vinyl-aluminum window and then a NEXGEN window and see what your return on investment is on an annual basis," explains Robin Randall, vice president of marketing.
The Quaker Valley district had TRACO windows installed in its buildings during recent new construction at two elementary schools and in retrofit projects several years ago at the middle and high schools. At Edgeworth Elementary School, the windows increased from 46 to 250 when the school was enlarged in "a total gut and rebuild," Marrone says. "We wanted more natural light," he says.
Although cost savings are hard to pinpoint, "we are using less energy [at Edgeworth] than we did before," Marrone says. And window repairs are easy, he adds.
Thrifty administrators can find guidance from private-sector firms with specialized expertise. The Portolan Group in Sarasota, Fla., provides assessments and needs analyses to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of their support services departments, including the central office, technology, maintenance and grounds.
"We help them decide where they are in terms of performance and give them guidance on recommended improvements and how to implement them," says Rob Crosby, a Portolan director.
They don't recommend products. "We just tell them if they are going through the right process to get the best product on the market for the best price. We can help them write requests for proposals and evaluate the responses," Crosby explains.
As an engineering and construction consulting fi rm, TTG tries to reduce energy costs on its building projects, whether they involve new construction or remodeling, says Kalemkaryan. "We look at the architectural, mechanical and electrical components of a building and specify more efficient systems," he says.
An effective option for schools, he says, is carbon dioxide monitors that can detect occupancy levels in libraries, for example, and ensure they get adequate ventilation. It produces cost-savings in HVAC systems, Kalemkaryan says. Similarly, light sensors in rooms can adjust to meet the levels needed and save on electricity.
In LAUSD, TTG has implemented a system of "thermal displacement of ventilation" to provide air at temperatures needed up to about seven feet above floor level but without cooling an entire room, thereby realizing more energy savings.
Susan Buchanan at VFA says districts should review their facilities. When needed repairs, renewals and upgrades are found, prioritize what is most important. Then make informed decisions on how to spend limited funds, she adds.
The Parkway (Mo.) School District uses VFA software to review long-term energy-savings options and sustainability issues, Buchanan says. "You're not necessarily going to be able to do everything at once," she says. "It's critical to look at facilities and capital planning over time."
When it comes to product choices, she says, districts will find many new products that "don't cost much more, if any more, than conventional products."
Alan Dessoff is a contributing writer for District Administration.