Energy-Efficient Building Technologies Help Power the Next Generation of Schools

March 26, 2020
To help address mission-critical needs, while also prioritizing student comfort, both districts turned to Honeywell to help carry out necessary upgrades across their facilities.

It’s no surprise that sustainability has become a top priority for many institutions and building managers, especially as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Beyond reducing carbon footprints, upgrading building infrastructure with energy-efficient technologies can provide unparalleled cost savings and benefits for decades to come.

Two school districts (K-12) in Western Michigan, Shelby Public Schools and Oakridge Public Schools, identified necessary repairs within their respective district’s buildings including upgrades to HVAC systems, boilers, chillers, lighting, building controls and more to meet infrastructure needs. The greater challenge was both districts lacked the necessary funding for the costs associated with aging systems, which take up a significant portion of each district’s budget. Many districts, when faced with increased pressure on capital expenditures and revenue, are turning to Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) to meet energy conservation demands and infrastructure improvement needs without having to shoulder the full expense of costly upgrades.

To help address these mission-critical needs, while also prioritizing student comfort, both districts turned to Honeywell to help carry out necessary upgrades across their facilities. In response, Honeywell determined that intelligent building management technologies could help address aging infrastructure for both districts’ schools – with technologies aimed at driving greater energy and operational efficiencies, while keeping occupants safe, and more comfortable. Shelby Public Schools

Shelby Public Schools comprises four unique buildings housing more than 1,400 students – all in need of infrastructure replacements and energy upgrades. To combat these issues with limited funding available, Shelby Public Schools’ superintendent determined that a guaranteed energy savings project would not only help the district address immediate infrastructure needs across its facilities, but that it could also be used to help sell a future bond issue to tax payers.

After consulting with Honeywell under the ESPC, it was determined that if the district implemented the recommended repairs and upgrades, it could expect to reduce its utility costs by approximately 50% and generate over $2.75 million in savings over the course of 15 years. As part of this plan, Honeywell would implement upgrades including the installation of advanced building technologies such as occupancy sensors to control lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, as well as advanced LED lighting.

During the development of the project, lighting sensors allowed the team to track lighting run times and when occupants were in a given classroom to accurately determine the amount of savings that could be generated. Infrared sensors were used on the envelopes of buildings to identify air leakage between walls and roof intersections, door sweeps and bare pipes with no insulation.    

Additionally, the middle and elementary school buildings will also receive new boilers and the high school will have its chiller replaced for efficiency and to better regulate temperature throughout the year. These upgrades, which also include CO2 sensors, are expected to dramatically improve building air quality across the district – fostering a more comfortable and productive atmosphere for students and faculty.

"We looked at our annual costs for energy and realized we needed to lower our operating costs by reducing our energy usage. For Shelby, the best way to achieve this was collaborating with Honeywell so we could upgrade the systems that use energy in our buildings, heating, cooling, water, air flow, and lighting,” Tim Reeves, Superintendent of Shelby Public Schools, said. “In the end, this will create better educational environments for our students and teachers.  With these upgrades, our classrooms and learning spaces are better suited for teaching and learning.”

Overall, project upgrades will help enable the Shelby Public School District to meet specific energy conversation goals set by the steering committee. The project broke ground in January 2020 and is expected to reach completion by August 2020. Successful implementation is also expected to enable the district to receive $100,000 in utility company rebates.

Oakridge Public Schools

Similarly, Oakridge Public Schools comprises more than 2,100 students across five district buildings. Through past engineering studies, the district had identified infrastructure and facility needs totaling more than $40 million. With limited funding available, the superintendent had to consider different financial approaches to address these critical needs and support upgrades across the district’s buildings. To bridge this gap and provide a smoother building experience for students and faculty, Oakridge approached Honeywell to develop a plan – resulting in a separate ESPC, also currently under construction.

With the installation of intelligent building management technologies, upgrades under the district’s contract will include energy efficient LED lighting, occupant sensors and building controls. Based on the use of occupancy sensors in certain areas, variable speed drives are being installed to help match fan and pump motor speeds, which is expected to result in more efficient heating, cooling and air quality for students and staff.

The Oakridge district is also replacing air handling units, furnaces and air conditioners in the middle school’s gymnasium, auditorium and its administration building. Once that work is complete, information from the upgraded equipment will feed into a new energy management database, helping facility managers to more accurately control the systems for comfort and efficiency.

“We’re excited to provide improved learning environments for our students and staff while reducing energy consumption,” said Tom Livezey, Superintendent of Oakridge Public Schools. “Honeywell has been a great partner in this effort. This innovative approach has helped us address our substantial facility needs without impacting our community’s taxes.”

Notably, work under the contract is projected to save the district roughly 36% in utility costs. Energy and operational savings are expected to pay for the $2.5 million project over the 15-year term, so the necessary upgrades should not impact the district’s annual operating budget. Similar to the Shelby Public School District, upgrades under Oakridge’s contract are expected to generate more than $80,000 in utility company rebates.

Building Sustainable Schools

Upgrades to lighting, boilers and chillers can be daunting investments, but they potentially have greater impact than energy savings. Recent academic research discovered that occupant comfort and the fresh air flow within school buildings might be a key to a more successful student body.

According to a recent study at Annenberg Institute, fresh air exposure via air filter installation in school buildings can lead to a 0.20 standard deviation increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year.

As school districts across the country look to provide better student and staff experiences, committing to infrastructure upgrades with energy efficiency as a priority may help them take their districts to the next level – by helping to deliver both significant cost savings and by fostering improved learning environments for students and teachers. 

Author:  Ronald Blagus is the Director of Marketing Energy Services North America for Honeywell Building Solutions. He is responsible for leading the energy services sales and marketing effort in the Central United States with an emphasis on public and private sector energy, renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions management.