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Schools build for the future

New energy-efficient facilities designed with modern learning in mind
Students and administrators of Clark County School District in Nevada launched construction on six new elementary schools, part of a 10-year, $4.1 billion construction campaign.
Students and administrators of Clark County School District in Nevada launched construction on six new elementary schools, part of a 10-year, $4.1 billion construction campaign.

Historic schools in Boston, built before World War II, are finally receiving a facelift.

On the other side of the country, Carmel USD in California found that controlling and maintaining lighting in nine sites spread over 600 square miles can save energy and maintenance hours.And a 10-year deferred maintenance plan in Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati will ensure that statewide testing will be smooth and glitch-free.

Such projects represent just a fraction of construction work underway across the nation’s schools.

The U.S. is home to nearly 100,000 public K12 campuses that encompass about 7.5 billion gross square feet and cover 2 million acres of land. From 2011 to 2013, the spending on these structures totaled nearly $99 billion per year, according to “State of Our Schools: America’s K-12 Facilities,” a joint publication of the 21st Century School Fund Inc., U.S. Green Building Council Inc., and the National Council on School Facilities.

Of that, $50 billion was spent on maintenance and operations such as daily cleaning, groundskeeping, utilities and security, while the remaining $49 billion went to new school construction and capital projects. To meet modern school standards, an additional $8 billion is needed for maintenance and operations while an extra $38 billion should be invested in construction and capital projects, the report says.

Growing evidence shows that well-maintained and updated school facilities promote learning, as well as student and staff health, and help curb long-term school expenses, the report states.

Keeping up with those new needs while balancing budgets is a priority for administrators across the nation.

‘An extra million square feet’

Despite the recent spending, at least another $10 billion per year is estimated to be needed for new construction to accommodate growing enrollments over the coming decade, according to projections in “State of Our Schools” report from The Center for Green Schools.

In April, Clark County School District in Nevada broke ground on a 10-year, $4.1 billion campaign that includes building 17 new schools over the next five years. Enrollment has grown by about 9,000 students in the past three years and now exceeds 320,000, making Clark County the fifth largest district in the nation.

Facilities are overcrowded. The district plans to build six elementary schools and replace two other elementary schools by the 2017-18 school year, and open five more new schools in 2018-19.

The growth presents other challenges, says Blake Cumbers, assistant superintendent of facilities at Clark County, including the recruitment of additional teachers and the acquisition of technology to accommodate all the educational and administrative needs. “Having an extra 1 million square feet also means there has to be a plan for 1 million square feet to be cleaned and maintained forever,” says Cumbers.

To help keep costs in line, structures are being planned for efficiency—in some cases incorporating two-floor designs that have smaller footprints and require less insulation. Different materials, such as epoxy flooring that is easier to clean and lasts longer than tile, are also being considered, he adds.

Last year, Boston Public Schools launched “Build BPS,” a 10-year construction, renovation and facilities overhaul plan costing roughly $1 billion. The district serves more than 56,000 students and encompasses 128 buildings.

“We’re looking at it as a challenge and an opportunity,” says Barbara Deane-Williams, senior deputy superintendent at Boston schools. “We’re following a plan that embraces equity, innovation and coherence to make sure that our schools match what education will look like over the next decade and beyond.”

Two-thirds of the school facilities in Boston, which were built before World War II, can’t accommodate modern teaching methods, such as project-based learning, says Carleton Jones, executive director of capital and facilities management.

“So we need to reconfigure to allow for those kinds of spaces while still keeping a mind toward historic Boston,” Jones says. This means ensuring that new buildings and renovations retain design elements and facades that are in character with surrounding neighborhoods.

Education saves energy

As districts continue to wring the most out of every budget dollar, many look for savings in energy consumption. Some have leaned on companies for guidance in replacing lighting and heating as well as electrical use.

The Oxford School District in Mississippi was looking to offset costs of building a new high school outfitted with the state-of-the-art digital learning equipment, including laptops for every student and a wireless network.

The district also wanted the building to have its own modular central energy plant, which costs less to construct and maintain than a traditional central energy plant, and can accommodate the expansion. Johnson Controls installed a management system to control HVAC, lighting, security and protection systems in the 220,000 square-foot building.

As a result, the new Oxford High School, which opened in 2014, expects to reduce energy use by the equivalent of 200 homes annually and to save $6 million in energy and operations expenses over the next 15 years.

Carmel USD in California struggled to control and maintain lighting in nine sites spread over 600 square miles. The district turned to Intermatic and its software interface designed to work with most common building automation systems.

The district integrates all of its controls—heating, air conditioning, security—into one device, programming hundreds of system commands from a central office. The system saves energy and up to 100 maintenance hours per year as well as eliminates extra travel between school buildings for maintenance personnel.

Rogers Public Schools in Arkansas is another district that has seen growth over the past few years.

To keep an eye on energy expenses, it employs UtilityEssentials from SchoolDude, a cloud-based management tool that can be integrated with Energy Star, the U.S. Department of Energy conservation and efficiency initiative.

Due to its ability to track and analyze 37 utility types (including electric, fuel oil and natural gas), the district has reduced its energy consumption by 32 percent over the past four years.

Loudon County Schools in Virginia employs two specialists who manage energy use for the district’s 88 school facilities. The district teams with Cenergistic (an energy conservation consultant) and uses EnergyCAP Professional Online (web-based software) to audit bills and analyze cost avoidance.

This year, the district saved $4.6 million in energy costs and had a 29 percent reduction in utility costs.

In the MSAD 52 district in Turner, Maine, leaders have contracts with Siemens Building Technologies which developed an energy efficiency plan. Over the past year, the company brought in more than 3,000 new LED fixtures, replaced old windows and roofs, automated control systems, and installed a new biomass boiler plant that was connected to three schools by 3,000 feet of underground pipe.

With the upgrades, the district hopes to save $40 million over the next 17 years—which is the cost of potentially replacing a school.

Closing the maintenance gap

As public funding continues to decrease in many districts, finding dollars to maintain equipment—rather than making repairs after failures—is a challenge.

Using industry standards adapted to K12 public school facilities, the U.S. should spend $145 billion annually to maintain, operate and renew facilities, according to the “State of Our Schools 2016” report. But districts fall $46 billion short of that goal.

“We’re doing a lot of good work with duct tape and Band-Aids, but we’re not really addressing the underlying problems, and you’re seeing that gap get bigger over time,” says Susan Hann, director of planning and project management for Brevard County Schools in Florida.

In Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati, deferred maintenance has become a priority. When David Foster, director of maintenance and facilities at Sycamore schools, came to the district a year ago, no comprehensive preventive maintenance existed for the district’s seven buildings, five of which are more than 50 years old and need special attention in regard to older mechanical systems.

After consulting with the district’s technicians and assessing all buildings, Foster is creating a 10-year maintenance plan to ensure that all mechanical equipment stays operational—and within budget.

Foster says that if the ventilation isn’t working properly in one of the schools on the day of the Ohio Graduation Tests, making test rooms uncomfortably warm, then those conditions can affect students’ performance. “If your preventive maintenance systems are running efficiently, then it will not impact the education process,” says Foster.

Aside from balancing deferred maintenance needs, communities are concerned about increased and improved security. Schools have beefed up security with doors that can be locked down from a central office, new locks that are more secure and extra cameras that provide better views of a facility.

The district also collaborates closely with local law enforcement to target threats and to better deploy resources.

Many of the school sites in Brevard County feature multiple buildings with open access that are often connected only by sidewalks or covered walkways.

“We’re doing a lot of investment in fencing and making sure when people come on campus, they come through the administration building so you have that single point of access,” says Hann. “It’s a fairly simple approach but it’s having a strong impact.”

The district receives funds specifically earmarked for security upgrades via a local sales tax that are used for single-point access fencing and remote electronic locks, according to Dane Theodore, assistant superintendent of facilities services for Brevard schools.

However, acquiring funds for everyday upkeep and routine replacement is still a major priority.

“Things break normally,” says Theodore, “but if you allow that to increase because you’re deferring maintenance, and you’re interrupting teaching time, then we are failing in our mission.”

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Ray Bendici is special projects editor.