K-12 roundtable focuses on energy efficiency technologies

HVAC and security systems are being upgraded at K-12 schools

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 16, 2023
Courtesy: Southland Industries

K-12 school insights

  • After COVID-19, many K-12 school buildings were upgraded to improve their indoor environmental quality, affecting energy efficiency.
  • Technology and new learning techniques are changing the way engineers design integrated systems within K-12 schools.

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.


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, RESET or other guidelines?

Misty DuPré: Salas O’Brien’s is active in sustainability for K-12 schools across the country. For example:

  • Our acoustics team does extensive work to help K-12 schools meet the noise control and sound isolation criteria for CalGreen and CHPS.
  • We recently completed the new transportation services center for Grossmont Unified School District to facilitate transition to an all-electric bus fleet.
  • We helped the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago obtain a net-positive energy and net-zero waste campus that achieved LEED Platinum.

Pomona Unified School District is comprised of 44 schools and educational facilities that serve 30,000 K-12 students and 17,000 adult learners. Due to the unique conditions at each site, a number of different HVAC technologies were employed including single zone gas packs, single zone split systems with gas heat, multizone air handling units, single zone heat pumps, electric heat pumps, direct exchange split systems, mini splits, air cooled chillers and condensers, ductless split systems, cooling towers and boilers. Courtesy: Southland Industries

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

Steven Mrak: Integrating individual classroom HVAC control with the lighting control systems is becoming much more common. Identifying windows of time throughout the occupied day when classrooms aren’t actually occupied (think lunch, gym class, recess, etc.) can generate savings in utility costs. Classroom HVAC systems can have the ability to reduce the amount of ventilation air brought in when rooms are not occupied. Using lighting control devices already present in the space, this unoccupied signal may already exist and can be used to temporarily override ventilation programming.

How have energy recovery products evolved to better assist in designing these projects?

Steven Mrak: Throughout the years, energy recovery devices have improved both their performance and required maintenance. Simple, sensible only plate type heat exchangers offer energy savings with little to no maintenance besides keeping up on air filter replacements. Energy recovery wheels can transfer both sensible and latent heat for improved performance but come with a slightly higher level of maintenance (due to wheel motor/belt) and some possible airstream cross-contamination. Similar to wheels, energy recovery cores offer both sensible and latent heat transfer but do so without the concern of cross-contamination or moving parts. Matching the correct type of device to the application will provide energy savings while improving indoor air quality.