LEDs advance learning environment: Web exclusive

A college’s switch to state-of-the-art LEDs allows it to efficiently tailor lighting to classroom needs.

By Dave Ranieri, Acuity Brands Lighting October 1, 2012

The Holden University Center of Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, was designed to establish an educational and technological atmosphere that enhances learning for students. In fact, the new two-story, 40,000-sq-ft facility is outfitted with complementary and interconnected state-of-the-art technologies to create an advanced learning environment that is also truly green. 

From a lighting standpoint, this meant moving from the fluorescent light sources used throughout the campus buildings built in the 1970s and 1980s to a more advanced lighting system that is aesthetically pleasing, creates a comfortable environment, easily adapts to varying light level needs, reduces glare, and is highly efficient. A state-of-the-art LED lighting solution was suggested by Lakeland Community College Senior Vice President and Treasurer Mike Mayher. 

However, Tec Inc. Engineering & Design (Cleveland), brought on board for electrical engineering services (including lighting design) after the building programming and schematic design was completed, was not immediately convinced that LED lighting was the best choice. 

“I was a little reluctant to specify ambient LEDs for such a large space,” said Tony Bledsoe, senior project designer, Tec Inc. “On the one hand—at least from a photometric standpoint—LEDs don’t offer many advantages over fluorescents. On the other hand, flexible control and integration into other building systems is a clear benefit of LEDs. So, after considering all of the college’s performance, efficiency, and control requirements, LED lighting became the obvious choice. And after reviewing several competitive products for this application, Lithonia Lighting RT Series integrated with Sensor Switch nLight controls separated itself as the best solution,” said Bledsoe.

Even though reducing maintenance was not initially a primary concern for the college, it became an added value of using LEDs. “Throughout the next two to three years, another benefit the college will experience is reduced maintenance. Consider fluorescents typically deliver 20-30,000 hours of life, while LEDs deliver 50,000 plus hours; that’s an obvious advantage,” said Bledsoe.

Enlightened audience

A total of 483 RT Series LED fixtures were ultimately specified and installed in classrooms, hallways, lounge and study areas, restrooms, conference rooms, offices, and two large science labs, accounting for more than 95% of the indoor lighting. 

“A total of 232 2×4-ft configurations and 251 2×2-ft configurations—each featuring embedded nLight controls—were installed,” said Bledsoe. “In the classrooms we were able to connect the RT Series with Cat5 cabling for control; the other spaces were controlled through a building lighting control system. 

“The recessed 2×4-ft and 2×2-ft lay-in volumetric lighting systems provide low-glare, wide-angle distribution, and high efficiency and photometric performance. We were partial to the linear prismatic refractor/linear ribbed reflector system offered by Lithonia Lighting’s two-lamp, RT5 fluorescent and RT Series LED luminaires. The product was both attractive and effective for the application.” 

Tec Inc. reviewed several other manufacturers before the final specifications were written, ultimately deciding that Lithonia RT Series LED luminaires were the best choice for the project. 

In accordance with the International Code Council’s IECC 2006 energy code, the lighting power budget allowed 1.2 W/sq ft average for the building. Tec Inc. achieved 0.689 W/sq ft, due primarily to the lighting design featuring RT Series LED luminaires for general ambient illumination. 

Goals and challenges 

A critical factor in achieving the college’s priority performance and efficiency objectives was the ability to introduce robust but easy-to-use digital controls that are already integrated into the RT Series luminaires. The controls were specified to solve several issues, including the need to adjust lighting levels in the classroom for equipment such as projectors, video monitors, and smart screens. Recessed, lay-in tile systems, providing for concealed HVAC ductwork and building structure, were built into the design, allowing for flexibility in placing the classroom equipment. 

Lowering the foot-candle level on an as-needed basis, depending on how a room was being used, was another consideration. “One solution was to install a wall station at the door with an up/down/on/off lighting control switch (0-10V dimming). However, we then connected the lighting with the audio/visual control station in each classroom to make it easier for professors to manage all the systems through a single control,” said Bledsoe. 

Tec Inc. chose adjustable lighting controls (dimming) to be compatible with the A/V systems, with normal illumination levels between 40 and 50 foot-candles in the general classrooms, and 50 to 60 foot-candles in the science labs. Much lower levels are suitable with some A/V equipment use. Application comparisons for the 2×4-ft units spaced on 8×10-ft centers in typical classrooms and 8×8-ft centers in labs provided the illumination levels needed. 

Tec Inc. also included occupancy sensors in each classroom. nLight communicates with the occupancy sensors, telling the building automation system when a room is unoccupied, allowing the lighting and the HVAC system to be reduced and save energy.

Another goal was to make the new center a U.S. Green Building Council LEED-certified building at least at some fundamental level, but the college’s decision-makers initially thought they lacked the time to pursue LEED certification on this fast-paced project. 

“But suddenly we were 25% completed with the project and realized we could in fact get it LEED certified. And the Lithonia Lighting RT Series product was a contributing factor,” said Bert Diehl, the college’s director for facilities management. 

The college’s staff was more than pleased with the final results. Lakeland’s maintenance coordinator, Daniel Duraney, said, “I’m totally impressed with the LEDs compared to fluorescents, especially when it comes to dimming. Fluorescents sometimes have glitches, while the RT Series dim very smoothly and work phenomenally well when showing overheads and movies. It is really unique that you can control the lighting and tailor it to the classroom needs. Furthermore, the options we have down the road with the lighting are endless.” 

Dave Ranieri is the vice president and general manager of Indoor Business Unit of Acuity Brands Lighting. He has 29 years of experience in the lighting industry and is responsible for business performance of commercial indoor lighting solutions including ambient, downlighting, decorative/residential, and LED lamps.