How to design K-12 schools: Sustainable design

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

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 27, 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 level of performance are you being asked to achieve, such as WELL Building Standards, U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, net zero energy, Passive House or other guidelines?

Tomaj: I’ve been asked to design to LEED Silver or better and net zero energy. Further, I’ve been asked to design projects to a maximum energy usage intensity (kBtu/square foot/year) target.

Hammelman: We are seeing more of our K-12 clients in California and Chicago asking for a facility that is net zero ready so that a third-party provider can install renewable energy in the future. The goal for net zero ready is to provide a dedicated space to offset the annual predicted energy use of the facility and to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support the future installation of the renewable energy.

CSE: What types of sustainable features or concerns might you encounter for these buildings that you wouldn’t on other projects?

Younts: In K-12 schools the focus for sustainable features tends to include more interactive features and the use of sustainability as a teaching tool. The goal is for the students to see the technologies in use, interact with them and learn the importance of sustainability and energy efficiency for our society now and moving forward. The number and type of technologies may vary by project and owner, but the opportunity to teach sustainability to our youth is unparalleled.

CSE: What types of renewable or alternative energy systems have you recently specified to provide power?

Hammelman: The renewable energy source for the majority of our K-12 projects is photovoltaics and with the renewable energy credits available for this technology more of our clients continue to pursue this technology. We are also seeing an increase of our clients requesting battery storage solutions to increase the resiliency of their buildings for prolonged power interruptions. In some cases, this allows them to negotiate better utility rates from an energy provider.

Tomaj: We have predominantly specified PV systems on projects. When we specify wind turbines, it’s mainly as a learning tool. The biggest challenge I see is our ability to “tell the story” about PV and that ability is honed by specifying PV on more and more projects. Telling the story includes explaining the financials on this investment, how the system functions, required maintenance and other frequently asked questions. The best way to learn how to tell this story is to work with a solar integrator during the design phase.

CSE: How has the demand for energy recovery technology influenced the design for these kinds of projects?

Gradishar: Considering that school buildings are densely occupied, some or most mechanical systems are provided with energy recovery systems. The provision of such systems is normally driven by code requirements, which allows for reduction on the cooling/heating base building loads and consequently, reduction on the building energy use.

CSE: What value-add items are you adding these kinds of facilities to make the buildings perform at a higher and more efficient level?

Gradishar: Some of the mechanical systems that can be implemented on these types of projects to achieve high efficiency levels include use of active chilled beams, energy recovery systems, air and water-side economizers, magnetic bearing chillers, condensing boilers, radiant floor for heating and cooling and demand control ventilation.