Energy Performance Contracting Results In More $$ For Education

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Energy performance in U.S. public schools is becoming more important than accountability measures or accreditation thresholds. That’s because optimum energy performance can help prevent greenhouse gas emissions and improve student learning environments. Moreover, the nation’s 17,450 K-12 school districts spend about $8 billion annually on energy, according to the EPA. School district energy costs surpass the total amounts spent on computers and textbooks combined today, so, by being more energy efficient, school districts can generate savings to help pay for building improvements and other upgrades.

One initiative that’s catching the attention of school boards and administrators around the U.S. who want to capture energy performance savings is the new partnership between ABM and the Connellsville Area School District in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. An energy performance contracting program from ABM will enable Connellsville school district officials to retrofit and upgrade most of its buildings systems. Connellsville Area High School, Connellsville Area Middle School, and the Connellsville Area Career and Technology Center will see infrastructure upgrades that are expected to accrue significant energy and operational savings. The project launched on July 1, 2017, and is scheduled for completion in October, 2018.

energy performance

ABM, which is a provider of facility reconfigurations, has designed customized solutions for the Connellsville Area School District that are expected to save more than $26.4 million in energy and operating costs over a 15-year period.

Philip Martell, Superintendent of Connellsville Area School District, said, “It is the perfect time to partner with ABM. We have operational issues across the board, but, for us, the selling point of the project is the educational benefit to our students.” He continued, “This partnership allows us to upgrade not only the facilities and security in our building, but also the technology. This project gives us the stability to move ahead with an educational component that a lot of public education institutions cannot due to funding cuts.”

The district is using the project to help cut operational costs and an aging building infrastructure as part of a three-year strategic financial recovery plan. In each of the buildings, ABM will work to improve HVAC systems and maintenance, lighting, water conservation, and energy management systems.

An Energy Performance Program that Upgrades Infrastructure

Energy performance problem-solving is a financial solution that addresses technical facility needs and sustainability goals. For schools, it drives costs out of operating budgets and allows savings to be reallocated to fund educational and capital expenses. Highlights of the Connellsville project include:

  • Districtwide, replacing fluorescent lighting fixtures with new, energy-efficient LED lighting, upgrading security and safety features, and adding building envelopes;
  • Installing upgraded or rejuvenating old HVAC system function at high-efficiency rates, and state-of-the-art, non-proprietary controls;
  • Replacing boilers with high-efficiency units at Bullskin Elementary and Springfield Township Elementary schools, and Connellsville Area Middle School;
  • Across the district’s four elementary schools, installing 37 new rooftop air conditioning units and new roofing overlays at Bullskin Elementary and West Crawford Elementary schools;
  • Upgrading walk-in coolers, freezers, and kitchen hood controls in six of the district’s kitchen areas; and,
  • Districtwide, upgrading water conservation measures and installing tankless hot water heaters at three schools.

Along with upgrading the school district’s infrastructure, the energy performance solution is expected to produce enough general fund savings to purchase each student a Chromebook laptop computer, modernize televisions, install SMART Boards in classrooms, and improve the wireless internet network throughout each of the district’s buildings. “Connellsville Area School District’s turnaround is ambitious and sets the district apart from others,” said Mark Newsome, President of ABM Technical Solutions. “The district is well-positioned to enhance its students’ educational experiences.”

Model School Districts that Have Solved Infrastructure Energy Performance Issues

Other districts have overcome infrastructure challenges and addressed energy performance issues successfully.

Perrysburg Exempted Village School District in Ohio had a reputation of academic excellence but faced critical infrastructure improvements. They sought to meet key facility needs without increasing taxpayer burden. Existing boilers in good working order at some schools were rarely used and poorly functioning boilers at other schools were in high demand. The solution? They gained immediate energy and water savings by installing building envelope improvements, lighting enhancements, occupancy sensors, control upgrades, and retro-commissioned HVAC equipment and chillers. By reallocating well-performing but under-used equipment, they saved on replacement costs and expect savings of $4.9M in energy and operating expenditures over a 15-year period.

Madison County Schools in Georgia confronted frequent breakdowns and humidity issues due to an aging infrastructure. Students were so uncomfortable that the overall poor learning environment suffered. The district had a limited capital budget for improvements but knew it had to tackle high energy and operational costs. The comprehensive, district-wide solution was to replace and upgrade over 600 HVAC systems and 700 water consuming devices. They also enhanced an indoor environmental quality through comfort conditions, lighting levels, and controlled humidity. In the end, Madison installed 11,000 lighting fixtures and two roofs. They turned the costs savings into synthetic turf, athletic field lighting, and the addition of the first ever HVAC system in the gym. Personnel were trained in improved in-house maintenance for the large-scale HVAC equipment. These changes totaled $12M+ worth of savings in energy and operation costs.

Higher education institutions, too, are looking to energy performance contracts to offset debilitating infrastructure problems. Brenau University in Georgia replaced aging HVAC throughout campus and installed high-efficiency lighting with a state-of-the-art control system. Others like Pace University in the New York Metropolitan area have started with environmentally friendly cleaning solutions and equipment.

Combining Sustainability Energy Performance with Educational Goals

The EPA suggests that talking to schools about energy performance should begin with recognition of immediate and pressing needs, like the health of students, test scores, and lack of financial resources. For the Connellsville School District, focusing on energy performance in the long term helped to alleviate some short-term deficits. Installing energy-efficient lighting, upgrading heating and cooling systems, purchasing energy-efficient products like Energy Star office equipment, and working alongside an energy provider to monitor results are starters.

“A project like this provides us the ability to make educational upgrades we may not have been able to do otherwise because of a lack of funding,” Martell said. “There are a lot of districts that may not be able to take on a project, like putting devices in students’ hands, right now, but they can do it, too, with the right help.”

Photo courtesy ABM Industries Incorporated

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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