K-12 roundtable focuses on automation, control technologies

Building automation and controls systems are being incorporated into K-12 schools

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 17, 2023
Courtesy: PBA

K-12 school insights

  • After COVID-19, many K-12 school buildings were upgraded to improve their building automation and controls.
  • Energy consumption within K-12 schools can be decreased by using building automation systems.

Misty DuPré, PE, Principal, Salas O’Brien, Vista, California – Maureen McDonald, LEED AP, Director, Energy Services, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, California – Steven Mrak, PE, Vice President, Peter Basso Associates Inc., Troy, Michigan – Steve Reigh, PE, HBDP, Engineering Leader, DLR Group, Washington, D.C.


From your experience, what systems within K-12 school projects are benefiting from automation that previously might not have been?

Steven Mrak: As basic as it may sound, building management system control of outside air dampers is huge for districts. Ventilation air processing is a large part of any school district’s utility bill and providing the correct quantity has a direct impact on student health. Many districts are dealing with aging infrastructure and may either have an obsolete/nonfunctioning BMS or may not even have one at all. Proper control of outside air dampers can potentially save utility costs during unoccupied times, while also ensuring sufficient ventilation during occupied times. BMS control also allows for a pre- and post-occupancy purge, which improves IAQ.

Steve Reigh: We see a lot of older schools with pumps, fans, chillers, etc., all still on constant-volume flow controls. Some great ways to really cinch down energy consumption is building automation system programming and variable frequency drives on motors. There are various energy services companies that are targeting school districts to provide BAS where not present, update the piping systems as needed to receive variable speed controllers on pumps and help educate the facilities groups to understand how and why they should be operating these systems. These ESCOs are also targeting old lighting fixture upgrades and generally looking wholistically at buildings to help grab the low-hanging fruit.

The Marygrove Early Childhood Center includes low-temperature trench heat. Courtesy: PBA

How is your team using building information modeling in conjunction with the architects, trades and owner to design a project?

Misty DuPré: With 3D modeling, all the information is in a single place. So many elements change during design. A single model makes it easier to identify these changes and make the necessary adjustments when you see them in real time while coordinating with other trades. Cloud hosting supports a streamlined transfer of information so that designing is more efficient. It also helps us work out spatial conflicts during design results in fewer change orders and requests for information allowing for better construction while reducing cost overruns.

Steve Reigh: DLR Group is a fully integrated design firm. All disciplines are in-house and we have been working in Autodesk Revit for many years. There is an initiative within DLR Group to push the use of Navisworks clash detection to ensure all of the big clashes are caught early, before bid, to minimize disruption during construction.

Using this software in conjunction with being an integrated design firm allowed us on a project in Monroe, Washington, to reduce the floor-to-floor height of a building enough to reduce the building sufficiently to save our heat recovery air-water heat pump from being value-engineered out of the project. This ensured all energy goals were met.

Has the Internet of Things come up in discussion or been implemented on such projects? How has this integration impacted the project?

Misty DuPré: Economics have made K-12 school sites slow to leverage networked infrastructure. However, as perceived benefits are being acknowledged and introduced to school districts, interest is growing. At this time, we are seeing most determine it is cost-prohibitive to integrate all systems onto a networked platform.