How to design K-12 schools: HVAC, plumbing systems

With increasingly complex systems and technology coming into play, work on modern K-12 projects is anything but elementary

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 30, 2020


Doug Everhart, Henderson Engineers

As a vice president and K-12 practice director, Everhart leads a team of education experts. With more than a decade of experience, his specialty involves designing innovative learning environments for students and teachers that use the spaces.

Anna Gradishar, Arup

As an Associate Fire Protection Engineer, Gradishar combines her fire protection and first responder backgrounds to offer expertise to owners, facility managers, tenants and design teams. She has developed comprehensive fire protection and life safety approaches for numerous building types and occupancies.

Keith Hammelman, CannonDesign

In his role as senior vice president, Hammelman focuses on the design and construction of pre-K-12 facilities, serving as the lead mechanical engineer for the firm’s central region. His sustainable project approach goes beyond the best mechanical system to the systemwide integration throughout an entire building.

David Lowrey, Boulder Fire Rescue

Lowrey has served with Boulder Fire Rescue for more than 20 years. He oversees the Community Risk Reduction Division, including code enforcement, building construction, life safety education and fire investigations.

Robert N. Roop, Peter Basso Associates

As principal and market leader for the company’s PBA’s K-12 Schools Group, Roop has spent more than half of his 32-year career exclusively designing educational facilities. He acts as the firm’s primary mechanical engineering technical resource for K-12 school projects.

Engiell Tomaj, Stantec

Tomaj first joined the company in 2012, first as associate, then promoted to principal and Business Center Discipline Leader. He holds an electrical engineering degree as well as an MBA.

Michael L. Younts, Dewberry

Serving as electrical engineer, Younts has been with the firm for more than 13 years. His expertise includes LEED projects, educational facilities and other areas.

CSE: What unique heating or cooling systems have you specified into such projects?

Hammelman: A K-12 project, especially larger high schools, are unique buildings because they include a variety of building types in a single facility. Many buildings include natatoriums, auditoriums, gymnasiums, kitchens, offices and libraries along with classroom spaces; each has a distinct requirement for designing this type of space. We had a project in the Cayman Islands in which all of these types of facilities were incorporated into a campus, which was a couple of miles from the ocean. In addition to the ocean environment, we were also required to design the facilities to be operational as a storm shelter during a Category 5 hurricane.

CSE: What unusual or infrequently specified products or systems did you use to meet challenging heating or cooling needs?

Gradishar: In recent projects, we’ve specified active chilled beams to efficiently condition classroom spaces. As chilled beams do not rely on fans for air distribution, the use of this type of system was beneficial not only to reduce energy use and increase thermal comfort, but also to improve the acoustic performance of the spaces, which is extremely relevant for classrooms. The active chilled beams can be served by a dedicated outside air system provided with energy recovery wheels and increased ventilation rates, which has been shown to improve students cognitive function.

Hammelman: We have used multiple types of systems within K-12 schools to meet the heating and cooling needs of the facility. We often start the design process with multiple type of systems reviewed before settling on the final system design with the owner. Using this process, we have been successful with the implementation of variable refrigerant flow, chilled beams and geothermal systems, along with more traditional designs. The system ultimately selected meets many needs of the project but is a collaboration between the design team and the owners of the project.

CSE: How have you worked with HVAC system or equipment design to increase a building’s energy efficiency?

Hammelman: We are always looking for ways to lower the overall energy use of the building. However, our design process uses energy modeling to make system selections early in the design along with other energy using elements as the building envelope and lighting systems.

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