Learning objective: Designing K-12 schools: Codes and standards

In K-12 schools, technological advancements, code requirements, and other demands placed on engineers are consistently increasing, while limitations like budget restraints remain a challenge. Codes and design guides help steer engineers.



  • David Ellis, PE, CEM, LEED AP Senior Vice President of Engineering Allen & Shariff Engineering LLC Columbia, Md.
  • Nestor Ortiz Senior Construction Engineer, Project Officer Parsons Brinckerhoff Long Island City, N.Y.
  • John C. Palasz, PE, HFDP Mechanical Engineer Primera Engineers Ltd. Chicago

Primera Engineers was engaged to renovate the boiler at Chicago’s Carl Schurz High School, a historic landmark. The team replaced steam boilers with 500-hp, low-pressure steam boilers, added steam-to-water heat exchangers, two 365-ton centrifugal chillersCSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you use as a guide as you work on these facilities?

Palasz: ASHRAE has great reference information available to engineers. Specifically,for the work we do with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the City of Chicago code governs these projects. Likewise, CPS publishes an HVAC design guide and provides details, specifications, and invaluable input to optimize design maintain consistency and reduce cost.

Ellis: In addition to current codes, each school district typically has its own design guidelines, and frequently LEED for Schools is employed.

Ortiz: The current school project complies with the 2008 New York City (NYC) building code, and some aspects of the 2014 codes. Many of the standards and guidelines are based on the needs of the school in coordination with the New York City Dept. of Education.

CSE: How have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, etc., affected your work on K-12 schools? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Ortiz: NYC public schools constantly monitor their energy consumption. As a result, it is very important that the equipment run efficiently. Correct commissioning of equipment is critical to the delivery of compliance with Energy Star, ASHRAE, and other conservation objectives.

Palasz: ASHRAE is the foundation for HVAC design and has affected my work significantly by providing an abundance of trusted published reference materials on a variety of system design approaches. The ASHRAE Journal regularly includes articles relevant to my work on K-12 schools. Similarly, the U.S. Green Building Council has moderately impacted my work on K-12 schools. When the decision is made for a project to be LEED certified, the design team focus shifts from code requirements to design enhancements to achieve LEED points. With a LEED project, designers are inspired to excel, perhaps with delusions of heroic grandeur of their impact on the project. Still,despite the lengthy process and paperwork requirements, there may be aspirations of original award-winning, energy-efficient design features. Energy Star, on the contrary,has yet to make a significant impact on my K-12 projects.

Ellis: While improved energy performance is the obvious result, acoustical performance associated with LEED for Schools has a significant impact.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities?

Palasz: Meeting the prerequisites for LEED certification is typically the most challenging.Because projects are trending toward tighter budgets and shorter design and construction schedules, the addition of a requirement to exceed the energy code while providing quiet ventilation presents a challenge.

Ellis: Given the typical approach of decoupling ventilation from conditioning, acoustic performance is the biggest design challenge. New codes, especially the IECC and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), pose a documentation problem that code officials want resolved by new documentation that increases production effort.

CSE: Do you find codes affecting K-12 school structures to be more or less taxing than those impacting work on other building types? If so, in what ways?

Ellis: Codes are not focused on K-12 structures in a significantly different manner than any other facility of a similar height and size, and with the same occupancy expectations.

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