Designing high-tech K-12 schools: Electrical, power and lighting
The technology at play in today’s K-12 schools is evolving rapidly—inside the classrooms, and in the various systems behind the scenes. Engineers handling such projects, whether the work is on new facilities or retrofits, have their work cut out for them, especially when it comes to electrical, power and lighting.
Doug Everhart, PE, LEED AP, K-12 Education Practice Director, Vice President, Henderson Engineers, Kansas City
Jason Gerke, PE, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal, Mechanical/Plumbing Group Leader GRAEF USA, Milwaukee
April L. Halling, PE, Project Manager, RTM Engineering Consultants, Overland Park, Kan.
Brandon Pierson, PE, LEED AP, Lead Mechanical Engineer, IMEG Corp., Rock Island, Ill.
Johnny Wood, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CxA, CPD, Senior Associate, Senior Project Manager, Dewberry, Raleigh, N.C.
CSE: What are some key differences in electrical, lighting, and power systems you might incorporate in a K-12 building, as compared with other projects?
Everhart: K-12 buildings tend to have a mix of different space types—classrooms, athletics, STEM, performing arts, visual media, and arts. Customizing lighting and flexible power systems specific to these space types is key in proper design. For classrooms, our designs typically provide local manual/dimming control for lighting systems while also integrating automatic daylight harvesting and occupancy-sensor automatic shut-off. Lighting zones are dimmed for different modes of the classroom—audio/video (AV) mode, energy-savings mode, test-taking mode, etc. We find that using flexible cord reels and bussing to allow the movement of overhead devices is desired in makerspaces and STEM-focused spaces to support project-based curriculum.
CSE: How does your team work with the architect, owner, and other project team members so the electrical/power systems are flexible and sustainable?
Wood: A senior electrical designer taught me a valuable lesson early in my career: know your building. One of the key aspects of MEP design is to know how your building should function and operate. This allows you to design the electrical system to fit the needs of the space. Knowing furniture layout/location, marker/tackboard locations, teaching wall locations, etc. allows you to ensure electrical devices will fit right along with the intended use of the space.
Everhart: User-group meetings, and lots of them. We find that focused meetings with teachers, administrators, and students help us properly plan the systems that will support equipment and specific uses. Every space is different. Having early meetings with the proper stakeholders is key.
CSE: Describe a facility metering or submetering project. What did it include, and what best practices did you include for these facilities?
Halling: A metering system provided to isolate different types of loads—kitchen, mechanical, lighting, and general power loads were provided with separate metering to allow for accurate analysis. Isolating different load systems allowed us to confirm that mechanical equipment was powering up outside of occupied hours and the scheduling needed to be changed to only operate when needed.
Everhart: We find that isolating building systems metering to lighting, HVAC, and process plug loads, at a minimum, is a good best practice. Henderson has partnered with Olathe Public Schools on the design for their fifth high school, Olathe West. With our wholly owned subsidiary, Henderson Building Solutions, we helped the district maximize its investment in the facility with a building monitoring system. This system allows students and staff to view live reports on electricity, gas, and water usage. It also provides better control over the building’s systems; accurate and timely performance data; and the opportunity for early detection of issues. The monitoring system was designed by Henderson Engineers and is backed by Henderson Building Solutions field technicians.
CSE: What are some of the challenges when designing electrical, power, and lighting for K-12 school projects?
Wood: A great challenge in K-12 design today is understanding the use of each space. Schools are intended to be very adaptable and flexible in today’s world; the design of the electrical systems to fit the needs of the space should go right along with that adaptability and flexibility.
CSE: What kind of lighting designs have you incorporated into such a project, either for energy efficiency or to increase the occupant’s experience? Discuss the use of LEDs or other updated light sources.
Everhart: Customizing lighting and flexible power systems specific to these space types is key in proper design. For classrooms, our designs typically provide local manual/dimming control for lighting systems while also integrating automatic daylight harvesting and occupancy-sensor automatic shut-off. Lighting zones are dimmed for different modes of the classroom—AV mode, energy-savings mode, test-taking mode, etc. In most projects, we are designing 100% LED-based systems. LEDs allow for better efficiency, longer life, and enhanced controllability.