The HVAC Factor: Greening Schools, One HVAC Step At A Time

By Dan Bulley
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

There are more than 130,000 schools throughout the U.S.; every day, 20% of the U.S. population attends one of these facilities. Greening schools can save energy, water, and money—hundreds of thousands of dollars each year—that can be reinvested in teachers, technology, and textbooks. Improvements such as cleaner indoor air and increased access to daylight not only support the health and well-being of students and teachers, but they raise academic performance and reduce absentee rates. Research has shown that greener schools can help lead to higher student achievement and lower operational costs.

Meanwhile, the recent economic downturn and shortage in funding has prompted facility managers (fms) to discover ways to cut energy costs. In particular, fms in the education sector are exploring the benefits of integrating geothermal and renewable energy into their facilities.

In new terms of construction, Chicago Public School administrators have awarded more than $4 billion in projects that include 31 new schools, 16 replacement schools, and 57 major additions and annexes. Guidelines for these projects include high efficiency boilers, variable air volume heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, geothermal heating and cooling systems, green roof design, occupancy sensors, and daylight harvesting as well as LEED Silver certification.

But much more work needs to be done, according to a recent report from the Illinois legislature. A task force charged with advising Illinois state legislative leaders on how LEED certification and green building practices can improve the state’s schools has issued a report offering several ways for institutions to incorporate and pay for the practices.

The House Joint Resolution 45 LEED Task Force was launched in October 2009. Led by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)-Illinois chapter, the bill charged the task force with advising USGBC-Illinois on a pilot program currently being undertaken to assist three underserved Illinois schools in achieving LEED for Existing Buildings Operations and Maintenance (EB: O&M) certification.

Green School Statistics

Green schools use 33% less energy and 32% less water than conventionally constructed schools, significantly reducing utility costs over the average 42 year life cycle of a building.

A study of Chicago and Washington, DC, schools found that better school facilities can add three to four percentage points to a school’s standardized test scores.

Source: House Joint Resolution 45 LEED Task Force report.

The task force was asked to analyze how such a program could potentially be used as a framework for assisting other existing Illinois schools in achieving sustainable operational practices. The team was also tasked with authoring a report to recommend programmatic, financial, and other resources that could foster sustainability initiatives on a larger scale.

One of the most valuable results of the task force came from a survey of the state’s schools. Results revealed that more than $226 million would be needed for conservation projects in 979 buildings and more than $1.4 billion would be needed for HVAC projects in 1,671 buildings.

Based on these findings, the group recommended the following:

  • A program that provides schools with access to sustainability resource professionals at no cost. These “Green Schools Fellows” would work with multiple schools and/or districts to establish sustainability programs.
  • A “one stop shop” for schools to access information and services related to sustainability improvements.
  • An initiative to enhance and publicize existing directories of support services and funding opportunities for green schools.
  • Support for the Environmental Literacy for Illinois strategic plan to increase awareness among Illinois students and teachers.
  • Efforts to encourage the training of building engineers and operations staff.
  • Fully authorized capital funding grants for schools.
  • An initiative to make matching funds available for state grants.
  • A fund for sustainability consulting.
  • An effort to enhance the Illinois Finance Authority’s energy efficient bond program so it enables schools to implement retrofit projects.
  • A sustainable school survey on a regular basis.
  • A report card on school sustainability.
  • Benchmarks for existing school sustainability measures.
  • Rewards and recognition for leadership

Bulley is the senior vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago, where he is responsible for the service, safety, and green building committees and oversees the Certified Welding Bureau. He served on the legislative task force that authored this report.