Designing high-tech K-12 schools: Fire and life safety and HVAC
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 of the unique challenges regarding fire/life safety system design that you’ve encountered for such projects? How have you overcome these challenges?
Wood: One of the issues we face in the testing of fire/life safety systems is strobe coverage. The interpretation of being able to see the “strobe effect” sometimes has different interpretations. We include additional fire alarm devices as allowances in the contract so we can easily deal with this during the testing phase of the project.
CSE: How has the cost and complexity of fire protection systems involved with K-12 school buildings changed over the years? How did these changes impact the overall design process?
Pierson: Fire protection systems, both fire alarm and fire-prevention systems, have become more complex and costly over the past several years. In the California market, the Division of the State Architect or authority having jurisdiction mandates that K-12 projects have fully designed fire alarm systems and fire sprinkler systems as part of the construction document set. Deferred approvals are a thing of the past. The fire alarm systems are required to be fully automatic with voice annunciation and carbon monoxide sensors where gas-fired HVAC equipment is used. Occasionally, the fire alarm system is part of a larger building automation system encompassing HVAC controls and security. Fully engineered fire sprinkler systems may consist of traditional wet sprinkler systems as well as clean agent systems and/or pre-action systems for data rooms. The demand for these types of systems has brought these traditionally deferred-approval systems to the construction document design table, requiring interface and coordination on a more detailed level.
CSE: Overall, how has concern about the increased frequency of mass-shooting incidents affected your work on K-12 schools?
Pierson: Campus security is a high priority with all our K-12 projects, and we are seeing a trend toward the control and monitoring of access to a school site. Student drop-off and pickup sites are carefully planned to control ingress and egress to a campus using building placement and fencing to control access. Security cameras are being adopted increasingly more by school districts to provide the ability to remotely monitor and record activities. Classroom doors are being fitted with quick-close locking systems to prevent unauthorized intrusion and facilitate shelter-in-place scenarios.
CSE: What types of air balancing do you typically include in your designs? Describe an example.
Gerke: Air balancing in a K-12 building is just as important, if not more important, than the air balancing conducted for a commercial building. Our designs require the testing, adjusting, and balancing (TAB) contractor to be certified by one of the industry-recognized organizations, such as Testing, Adjusting, and Balancing Bureau (TABB) or NEBB. These organizations provide a level of industry standardization so that contractor expectations can be managed. A professional TAB contractor will work with the mechanical contractor and design team to not just test, but also to actually balance the airside and hydronic systems in a building to achieve the most positive outcome.
CSE: Describe an HVAC ventilation system you’ve worked on or encountered in an office building that included hoods, fire suppression systems, or other specialized ventilation systems.
Wood: Most high schools include some type of fume hood in the science labs. Ensuring the proper amount of make-up air is delivered to the spaces is a key aspect of the HVAC design when fume hoods are present. Woodworking shops normally include dust-collection systems. Ensuring the proper amount of make-up air is delivered to the spaces is also an essential aspect of the HVAC design when dust-collection systems are present. Welding labs can also have complicated ventilation systems at times. Paint booth ventilation is a vital aspect of HVAC design when these are present.
CSE: What best practices should be followed to ensure an efficient HVAC system is designed for this type of building?
Wood: For joint-use facilities, ensure the HVAC systems are isolated/separated to allow these areas to be served without having to run the larger HVAC systems serving areas of the school that are not occupied during the after-hours time frame.
CSE: What is the most challenging thing when designing HVAC systems in office buildings?
Gerke: As in many building markets, the design team is responsible with balancing the best design solution with a proposed project budget. Many of these situations include the involvement of a construction manager or professional cost estimator to monitor the cost of the building through the design phase. Design decisions should not be based solely on first cost; they need to balance the owner’s project needs, compliance with code requirements and standard of care in the design of systems, and finally, the aesthetic requirements of the systems in a specific building.
Wood: One of the most challenging issues we face today is ensuring the proper maintenance access is provided for the equipment installed. We are faced with several issues. With rising construction costs, the smallest possible equipment rooms are desired. In public projects, equipment is not limited to one manufacturer. Each equipment manufacturer’s dimensions vary—some are larger, some are smaller. When designing for larger equipment and ending up with smaller equipment installed, sometimes we are criticized for “overdesigning” the equipment rooms.